Sunday, December 11, 2011
Virginia Tech officer's widow: 'Somebody took our life from us'
Deriek Crouse was her first true love and her best friend, and in the shadow of his death, Tina Crouse grapples with grief and anger.
Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times
Slain police officer Deriek Crouse's family stands in the living room of their Christiansburg home Saturday. Clockwise, from front left: Peyton Robinette, 9; Dustin Crouse, 16; Logan Schack, 18; Tina Crouse; Tyler Robinette, 11; and Hayden Schack, 15.
Courtesy of Crouse family
Tina and Deriek Crouse met at Christiansburg High School when she was a freshman and he was a junior. But the two didn’t become a couple until after Deriek returned from serving in the Iraq war. This photo shows the couple in 2009.
Courtesy of Crouse family
Deriek exchanged letters and emails with Tina Crouse throughout his yearlong Army service in the Iraq war.
Courtesy of Crouse family
In his teenage years, Deriek Crouse had a seemingly endless supply of black Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne T-shirts. "We became buddies," said Tina Crouse of their high school years.
Officer Deriek Crouse
- 39 years old
- Christiansburg resident
- Member of VTPD since October 2007
- Survivors: Wife, five children and stepchildren, mother, brother
- Sign the guest book for Deriek Crouse
- A memorial fund has been set up to support the family of officer Crouse. Donate by check to the National Bank of Blacksburg.
Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech
- Candlelight vigil See photos from a candlelight memorial on the Drillfield at Virginia Tech on Friday.
- Thursday on campus See photos from across Virginia Tech's campus Thursday as law enforcement secured campus.
- Ross Ashley stole SUV from real estate agency that managed the apartment complex where he lived (Dec. 10, 2011)
- Motive in Virginia Tech police shooting still a mystery (Dec. 10, 2011)
- Slain Virginia Tech officer remembered as a 'natural' on the job, devoted dad at home (Dec. 10, 2011)
- Emotions glisten at Tech vigil (Dec. 10, 2011)
- Tech student creates fund for officer (Dec. 10, 2011)
- Campus seeks answers after Virginia Tech officer killed (Dec. 9, 2011)
- Feelings of safety mix with 'not again' for Tech students (Dec. 9, 2011)
- Tech praised for quickly sending campus alerts (Dec. 9, 2011)
- Social media were fountain of shooting information, true and false (Dec. 9, 20112)
- Virginia Tech police chief testifies in Clery hearing (Dec. 9, 2011)
It carried on and on, ripping through a home and family he had been after his whole life and only recently got, breaking the heart of a woman to whom he was a first and only real love, and bringing a crashing end to what had been a working-class fairy tale of a romance.
Crouse, 39, a Virginia Tech police officer, was killed seemingly at random during a routine traffic stop on the Tech campus by a part-time Radford University student, Ross Truett Ashley, 22, of Partlow, who soon after killed himself.
“Nobody knows what he lost,” said Crouse’s widow, Tina, 37, from her Christiansburg townhome Saturday morning. “Somebody took our life from us.”
High school friends
She was a freshman, and he was a junior. He was short. She liked short men.
“He was little and cute, and I flirted with him,” Tina Crouse recalled Saturday morning.
Deriek turned up at Christiansburg High School that year, and Tina noticed him immediately.
She wanted romance. He was sporting a mullet haircut and an endless supply of black Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne T-shirts and seemed more interested in a good time.
“We became buddies,” Tina Crouse said. It was only when Deriek left Christiansburg to return to Carroll County because of issues between his divorced parents that things became clear.
She sobbed when she heard the news, and that night he called and said he hadn’t realized what the two meant to each other. But a romance wasn’t to be. Not yet.
On separate paths
The two went their own ways.
Deriek met the woman who would become his first wife, Marie Thomas, in Galax.
He joined the Army to save himself from himself, Tina said. His life was on a wrong path and headed for trouble.
He spent three years in the Army, mostly at Fort Hood, Texas, where he and Marie had their only son, Dustin.
They returned to Galax, where Deriek installed vinyl siding for a while, then worked at National Textiles. He also joined the Army Reserve.
About 2002, he and Marie separated, and shortly after he had moved out, he was deployed to the war in Iraq.
Now single, he was thinking about Tina again. Sitting in Kuwait, waiting to be taken into the war zone, he found Tina on the classmates.com website. He wrote to her immediately.
Would that old high school spark still be there? Yes, it would.
Tina had just endured a nasty divorce, her second, and was on her own with four boys.
Deriek, it seemed, had resurfaced at just the right moment. Throughout his year in Iraq, the pair wrote each other constantly in letters and emails.
“I was going through a lot, and he was the first person I opened up to,” Tina said. “He was the best friend I’ve ever had in my entire life.”
By the time Deriek returned home, the romance they’d never quite managed before was in full bloom.
Deriek moved in with Tina and her four boys and pursued a career in law enforcement, using benefits from the Army and a layoff from National Textiles to pay his way through the New River Criminal Justice Training Academy.
He found work at New River Valley Regional Jail and as a correctional officer with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
Bosses and co-workers praised his work ethic and professionalism. When Tina saw him at work, it was a turn-on that he was such an authority figure.
At home, he was like a fifth boy, clowning, shouting at Pittsburgh Steelers games on TV and still listening to Metallica, Tina said.
As a couple, Tina said the two were a perfect balance.
“When I was on my high horse, he had a way of calming me down,” she said. And when he was being lazy, she had a way of motivating him.
“He was my idol. I was jealous of him. He did everything so well,” she said.
“My biggest problem with Deriek is he knew exactly what I needed.”
Tina is spoiled by her own account, but Deriek wouldn’t let her pout or worry.
When she talked about hating her job last year, he told her to quit and go to cosmetology school.
“We’ll make it,” he said. “It’s just a year.”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he liked to say. And for the first time in his life, he had the big stuff right.
He had moved around his whole life. “It was hard for him to attach himself to people,” Tina said.
Now, he had a home, said his close friend and colleague in the police department, Tom Gallemore. “He was finally settled.”
“I was never going to get rid of him,” Tina said.
The dreadful news
When Crouse took a job as a patrol officer with the Virginia Tech police in October 2007, the worry for his safety became routine.
“I wanted him on patrol because that’s what he wanted,” she said.
Still, when she was at school Thursday and students began buzzing about a shooting at Virginia Tech, she thought immediately of Deriek.
He’d left early that morning, but not before climbing back into bed for a minute to stroke her hair and tell her he loved her, like he always did.
At 11:20 a.m., he texted her: “Love you lots,” followed by a kissing emoticon.
At 11:49 a.m., she responded, “Kisses!!!!!! Love you.”
Word of the shooting came about an hour later.
“What’s going on?????” Tina texted Deriek at 12:52 p.m. And at 12:55, “I just need to Kno Ur ok.”
An hour later, she had heard nothing and told herself he was busy responding to whatever was going on. She called her son Hayden, who was home sick, to tell him to lock the door for his safety. He told her two people had just come by looking for her.
Tina dropped her coffee mug. Her knees buckled. Moments later, a car pulled into the parking lot at her cosmetology school.
She knew. She sobbed uncontrollably.
“My first thought was, ‘I wish I had kissed him better that morning.’ ”
Dealing with the anger
Since that moment, her life has been a cyclone of grief and anger and clinging to memories.
“He deserved to be able to live out his life … and he didn’t get to enjoy it because some stupid person chose him,” she said, sobbing. “But I can’t wish it was somebody else.”
For a time, what she wished for was revenge. “I wanted him dead,” she said. And then to know the killer.
“I wanted somebody to hate,” she said, her voice rising with her anger, her spine stiffening. “But I’ve seen it, and it’s just some stupid kid. I got no satisfaction from that.”
Though surrounded constantly by family and friends, she said, “I feel kind of alone.”
She fights the urge to retreat to the bedroom she shared with Deriek in their townhome and curl up in the corner, hiding from it all.
But Deriek would never let her do that.
“He told me I was a stronger person than I gave myself credit for,” she said. “I have to make him proud.”
Guest book: Sign the guest book for Deriek Crouse