By Anne O'Connor


TOWNSEND -- The new book was supposed to be funny, a humorous snapshot of a police chief's 35 years of service in a town of 9,000 people.

That plan "lasted about three weeks," said William May, retired police chief of Townsend.

"As I got into this, things started to come out of me." Instead of humor, "Once Upon a Crisis" deals with the serious subject of post traumatic stress.

The Townsend native's childhood memories are small-town perfect: Getting to the gym to play basketball before school started and hearing the ever-present sound of the mill, which meant that everything was just as it should be.

While writing "Once Upon a Crisis," May contacted people who had been affected by the things that happened under his watch. His purpose was to find out "how they felt and how they dealt with the tragedies in their lives," he said at the annual meeting of the Townsend Historical Society on Nov. 3.

The idyllic appearance of his childhood memories contrasted with the realities of people in crisis he saw as a police officer. He decided to follow Ernest Hemingway's words and "write hard and clear about what hurts" while relating the real stories of real people.

The book follows a court proceeding format. May presents each case, gives the facts and then makes remarks. These are the real stories, not the ones told in the newspaper or on television, he said. The aftermath of the crisis can continue to affect survivors for years.


What goes on in the minds of emergency personnel and the people who receive their services became a focal point of the book.

Post traumatic stress affects not just victims and families. Rescue workers pay a price. In 2012, 127 police officers were killed in the line of duty. Others, 126 male and female officers, committed suicide during the same time.

Since releasing "Once Upon a Time" in October 2012, May has spoken to law enforcement and first-responder groups about the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. He also writes a column in "Law Enforcement Today," an online publication.

While talking to a familiar group of people, May discussed their shared community and "just how difficult it is to manage PTSD."

Most of the people he contacted years after a traumatic event were willing to talk. For many, it was difficult. Some broke down in tears, years after the devastating events.

"It's not just adults that have problems with this," he said. One woman, who was nine years old when disaster struck, then had to deal with the breakup of her family.

His book covers 35 years of Townsend's past. It shows the importance of having faith in God and supporting each other, "a task the town does so well," May said.

He also "tried to put messages in there." During his years as a police officer and chief, he covered more than 100 suicides. Substance abuse played a role. In 60 percent of the suicides, the victim's blood-alcohol-level exceeded the legal amount to drive.

May reached into Townsend's history and brought a message from the 19th century from Anson Fessenden, owner of the Fessenden mill. He supported the temperance movement, a social movement that called for using alcohol in moderation or not at all.

One traumatic event can influence lives into the future. "Death is not final. People live on," May said.

The trauma will never go away, but time soothes, he said.

Another saying that helps, derived from a Jewish prayer, is "this, too, shall pass," he said, a truth that comforts adults, too.

Louise Fortin, an audience member, agreed. When her son was serving in Desert Storm, her doctor told her, "This, too, shall pass."

"I have never heard anything more comforting," she said.