BOONE COUNTY, Ind. - Taylor Nielsen laughs as she plays catch with her new pup outside her Boone County home. She's feeling more alive than ever. And that's a miracle, considering Taylor nearly took her own life less than a year ago.
Raised by a father in law enforcement, Taylor grew up wanting to wear the badge too. She enrolled in the Police Academy and got a job with the Lebanon Police Department.
But on the morning of February 17th, 2016, Taylor got a call to a scene that would change her life. A double homicide at a home in Zionsville.
A gruesome scene
"Oh, it was terrible," she recalled. "It was just a gruesome scene."
31-year-old Katherine Giehll and her 4-year-old son Raymond were inside. Both had been shot to death.
Taylor became visibly upset as she recalled the moment she saw them.
"It was very difficult and sad and, um, hard."
Her father, Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen, and his deputies tracked down the suspect. He also asked for a volunteer to go to the coroner's office to examine the victims' bodies. Taylor stepped up.
"My biggest thing was that family and being the last voice for them," she explained.
However, helping out that day sent Taylor down a dark path.
"I remember coming home and just being distraught and coming home to an empty house. No one was here. And just kind of wondering, you know, what is wrong with me?"
"Planning my own death"
What followed were eight months of sleepless nights and nightmares when she did sleep. Taylor spun into a deep depression, isolating herself. She was angry all the time.
Lebanon police officials noticed the difference and told her to get therapy. She was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. She struggled to cope.
"I got into this big shame battle with myself," Taylor explained. "My shame was telling me, you know, you're a worthless officer because you can't even handle this scene that you need to handle."
Then in October, Taylor decided she was going to end her struggle herself.
"It was like I can't do this anymore. I can't do this anymore," she said. "I ended up kind of planning my own death and attempted suicide then."
Thankfully, Taylor's fellow officers found her in a field and rushed her to the hospital.
"The only thing I ever wanted was someone to tell me that it was going to be okay. And I remember one of the officers holding their hand out and saying 'It's going to be okay' right before taking me to the hospital. And that was just like, that was it for me."
Soon her parents were informed and Sheriff Nielsen, who had been out of state on a trip, rushed home to see his daughter.
"I felt guilty. I felt very guilty," he told us.
He visited Taylor in the hospital and the two had a long heart-to-heart talk that helped the healing begin.
"She felt my pain. I felt her pain," Sheriff Nielsen said as he teared up. "I knew when I left after our conversation that we were gonna be okay."
Taylor is not alone in her fight.
According to a recent study, there were 108 police suicides in 2016. That number has decreased over the years, but it remains significant.
Taylor took some time off and got specialized therapy for PTSD. Now, she's fighting for the same resources for everyone who wears a badge.
Her focus is to change the police culture and allow officers to deal with their emotions as they come.
"We still have a lot of older cops with the mentality of, ya know, 'Be strong! Get in there! Don't cry!'," she explained. "The fact of the matter is, I responded to a scene and it was a horrific scene. I have a right to be sad about that without judgment from anybody, including administration. Police officers feel like they're going to get such a backlash from their admin and so our administrators need to be a lot more supportive than they are now."
Taylor wrote a wellness policy for the Lebanon Police Department. She wants training for officers so they recognize PTSD symptoms. She also wants to have a mental health consultant on hand alongside a Critical Incident Scene Management Team that can intervene when needed.
"Your CISM team members can kind of keep an eye on those officers and they're trained on picking up on what the signs are."
Her policy is awaiting approval from police administrators.
Recovery and restoration
In the past year, she's kept in touch with the Giehll family. She wanted their blessing to share this story, in hopes other officers will know they don't need to hide their pain behind their uniform.
"That uniform does not define me. What's in my heart defines me," she said. "There is hope and you can get through it."
She even convinced her dad to get therapy for his years of PTSD. Now he's working harder to make sure his deputies across Boone County get the help they deserve.
Getting help begins by recognizing the symptoms of PTSD which, according to the National Center of PTSD, are:
-Reliving the event (having nightmares or flashbacks)
-Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
-Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
-Feeling keyed up (feeling jittery, always alert)