It was the kind of call police can dread most.
A male subject, described as “suspicious” and “wearing a camouflage outfit,” was trying to break into an east-side home.
He had looked into a window, but seen that it was locked.
He had tried the garage door code, but to no avail.
He had “walked around” to the back part of the premises and was, reported the caller, seen “just a few moments ago jumping the padlocked fence.”
So Officer Fred Martin, a 21-year veteran at Bloomington Police, approached guardedly, as any officer would.
He saw the male subject.
He was in the back yard.
Martin cried out “Halt!” just as he had always before, and cautiously asked what the subject was doing.
There was a hitch.
The “subject” lived there, he said.
“You’re trying to break into your own home?” asked Martin.
The subject, Christopher Kunder, 21, explained he was in the Army Airborne, was serving in Afghanistan, was in his actual uniform (camouflage and red beret) and had come home on leave, purposely unannounced, to surprise his family.
“They don’t know you’re here, from Afghanistan?”
“No, it’s a surprise …”
There was a pause.
The minds began to churn.
“Hey!” said Christopher, “could you call my mom, tell her there’s an emergency and she needs to come home immediately?”
Officer Martin said, no, he couldn’t do that.
He is a police officer, after all.
Instead, he asked for Christopher’s mom’s phone number and called with nothing but the truth.
“Mrs. Martha Sternickle?”
“This is Officer Martin of Bloomington Police. We’ve had a report of somebody trying to enter your home. It was unsuccessful but you might want to come home to make sure there’s no problem.”
Nervously, Martha said, “sure.”
She rushed to her car, joined by Josie, her daughter.
At one point, Martha wondered how the good officer got her phone number, but also realized police have their ways.
She sped home.
In the meantime, Officer Martin put Christopher in the back seat of his squad car.
The police lights were activated.
Sitting a ways off from the home’s driveway, he was waiting when Martha Sternickle whipped in. Martin quickly got out of his car to say they’d found the suspect who was snooping around the house.
“He’s in the back seat of the squad, ma’am.”
“Could you step over and see if you might recognize him? One can never tell …”
So Martha did.
Playing his role perfectly, Christopher had slunk into the squad car’s back seat so he could not be easily seen.
Officer Martin opened the door.
Martha Sternickle looked in.
As she stared, the subject looked like her own son, she thought. And then suddenly, she realized it was. “What are you doing home?” she screamed.
Christopher jumped from the car and mom and son hugged.
“Mom was crying and was overjoyed,” says Martin. “Then little sister (Josie) bolted out of their own car to mine and grabbed her big brother, equally overjoyed.”
“It was,” says Fred Martin, after 21 years of too much hardened crime, “a reunion that made my own eyes water.”