To this day, I don’t know Daniel’s real name.
He was just one of those thousands that drift throughout the world. Someplace somewhere, they forget they were somebody’s son or daughter and not knowing who they were, they became someone else. In this case, he claimed to be Daniel, as in Daniel from the Book of Daniel as found in the Bible.
He showed up in Alamosa, and was a street person. He supported himself playing guitar on the streets, and living on the nickels and dimes people tossed into his case.
He was a harmless vagrant, and soon just became part of the background of the community. An un-person who drew little attention.
My first real encounter with Daniel started in a local bar my housemate Andy (another cop) and I frequented called the Purple Pig. The Pig was a popular hangout for people from all different walks of life. You had cowboys rubbing shoulders with outlaw bikers who in turned rubbed shoulders with college students and blue collar workers.
Everyone got along just fine because Arch, the bartender, was as big as the bar, and badder than an entire ship full of Navy SEALs. Woe onto the individual who started something in the Pig because the wrath of Arch would descend upon them like the Wrath of God.
So, it was a nice place for two off-duty cops to hang.
Andy and I were in there one night talking to some bikers. It was still early in the evening, and dancing hadn’t started yet. The TV was on, and Lassie was showing. At the end of the bar, watching the TV, was Daniel.
Those familiar with Lassie knows how the show runs. Well, Lassie and Timmy got in trouble, and Daniel stands up from his beer, and drops to his knees.
In a loud voice he calls on God to save Lassie and Timmy. Sure enough, after the commercial break, Lassie and Timmy are out of trouble and home safely. That’s when Daniel turns, and faces a now captive audience and proclaims in a loud voice, “Proof that there’s power beyond our understanding.”
I remember one of the bikers shook his head and said, “Yeah, like scriptwriters and directors.”
Daniel left the bar right away, and we let our on-duty colleagues know what had happened. Since he was harmless, no further action was taken.
Flash forward a few months. It’s shortly after New Years. Up to this point, it’s been a mild winter, but the first real cold has settled in. I’m on duty that night, and it’s after midnight on a Saturday.
Since it was a Saturday night, everyone is out and about. Along about one in the morning, we get a call that someone has jumped off the Rio Grande bridge into the river.
There still wasn’t much ice in the river, and the river itself wasn’t that high, but between water and the cold, a person could die very quickly. Thinking whoever it was might have drifted down from fourth street to sixth street, myself and several officer went down to where the road dead ends there. We’re shinning spotlights across the water and not seeing anything. By now, a crowd has gathered up on the bridge and they’re also looking.
Fire and EMS was paged out, and one of the firetrucks is parked up on the bridge, and they’re sweeping the river with their big spotlights.
Not seeing anything, I grab my flashlight and tell my patrol sup that I’m running up towards fourth street in case our jumper is in the willows on the river banks.
That was a bit of a mistake. Trying to jog up the river in the cold caused my lungs to burn, and by the time I reached the bridge I was feeling it.
As I came up out of the willows, I saw EMS Kevin Hunter and Alamosa County deputy Don Teems on the shore, also looking out over the ice. As I came out, someone started shouting, “There he is!”
The light from the firetruck swept over, and there in the icy waters was a single man. He was floundering in the thin ice (it was just a thin sheet in that area). He appeared to be looking desperately for something and was completely oblivious to this large pool of light around him.
Donnie, Kevin, and I went wading out to where he was. Each step was bone chilling but we were intent on saving this man.
We were maybe ten yards from him when he became aware of our approach. He thrust an open hand up into the air, and cried, “Bless you, my children. You’ve come to praise me!”
“Yeah, yeah, Daniel,” I said. “We’ve come to praise you. But can we go do it someplace warmer.”
I guess that made him realize he was freezing and didn’t resist as we helped him out of ice cold water, and towards the shore. It was soon obvious that he was getting hypothermic on us, and if we didn’t get him warmed up, he’d be dead.
We got him into the back of the ambulance where the heaters were going full blast. I climbed into the ambulance to assist the EMTs. We started getting the cold, wet clothes off him. I was assisting them when he gabbed my hand and asked, “Officer, do you want to know why I jumped?”
Always a good thing to know, so I said, “Yeah. Daniel. Why did you jump?”
“I wanted to die for everyone’s sins!”
I looked up at Kevin and he looks at me, and he said, “Dear God. He gave himself a promotion.”
We got him to ER, and the question soon became was there anyone who might know anything about him. The only person I could think of was Rev. Richard Greib from the Episcopalian Church. We didn’t have a homeless shelter yet and he ran a place where at least homeless people could get out of the weather, stay warm, and maybe get a meal.
He and I were friends. I had his number and called him.
He showed up a few minutes later, and that’s when I found out about something I knew nothing about. It seems the day before he was splitting some wood for the stove at the shelter when Daniel came up to him with a hunting knife.
Daniel had tried to attack him and had worked him into a corner and was desperately wanting to cut Rich’s ear off, much the same way Simon Peter had done with the servant of the high priest when Jesus was arrested.
Not wanting to lose an ear, Rich had defended himself and taken the knife from him. He told Daniel to leave and that he was no longer welcome there. Daniel left, and as long as Daniel stayed away, he was good with it.
Hearing me talking with Rev. Greib, Daniel cries out, “Greib! Richard Greib. Come forth.”
Rich went in and spoke with him, and came out a few minutes later shaking his head. “I don’t know what happened to him,” he said. “But he actually thinks he’s Jesus.”
Daniel was taken to the state mental hospital in Pueblo, Colorado, and was there for a three-day evaluation. They kicked him loose saying there was nothing wrong with him. He’d claimed he hadn’t jumped but had dropped his guitar into the river and, in trying to recover it, fell in.
He didn’t come back to Alamosa.
Instead, he went up to Grand Junction, Colorado.
I was off duty one day in May and was watching a movie when Andy came in from his shift.
“Did you hear about Daniel?” he asked.
“No, what about him?” I asked.
“You know he was up in Grand Junction. Anyway, he got hold of a gun and blew his brains out.”
“You’re kidding. Why?”
He shook his head. “He left a note saying he’d come back from the dead on the third day.”
Almost forty years has passed since that happened.
We’re still waiting.