Woburn, Ma., police chief Philip Mahoney is haunted by the death of Alyssa Presti, reports the Boston Globe. The 12-year-old’s throat was slashed in her bedroom shortly after her mother, Joanne, was allegedly raped and killed by a convicted sex offender. Her diary apparently didn’t disclose clues to the murder, but “she writes…about how she’s the only girl in seventh grade who had never kissed a boy,” Mahoney said. “Now I know that she’ll never kiss a boy, that she’ll never get to kiss anyone, and it’s just not fair. It’s not fair….I’m 57 years old and this still affects me.”
Those who have worked closely with Mahoney since 1986, when he became chief, say he frequently displays an emotional response to cases. While police stress specialists say that nearly all officers experience heavy emotional grief following certain crimes, few will talk publicly about it for fear of being perceived as weak.
“You don’t want to freak people out and have people lose confidence in your leadership,” said psychologist Gary S. Aumiller, the president of the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology in Hauppauge, N.Y. “Some people will look at what he says and say, `What’s this guy doing as chief?’ Other people will say, `Thank God our police officers are human.’ ”
Aumiller said police chiefs are particularly predisposed to becoming affected by the emotional aspects of tough cases. Those who work their way up the ranks to become chief are generally obsessive. They are big thinkers who have been able to control most aspects of their lives. The stress adds up in a cumulative fashion. “All of that makes them more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder,” Aumiller said. “The question is whether they do something about it.”
When investigators arrested Michael J. Bizanowicz after linking his DNA to Joanna Presti’s body, Mahoney stood in the lobby of his police station and angrily told reporters, “He took a knife and stabbed us right in the heart of this community.” Shortly thereafter, Mahoney sought counseling.
Mahoney had told the Globe that his department may have fouled up paperwork that would have listed Bizanowicz, who was registered as a sex offender in Lowell, as having a secondary address in Woburn, where his on-and-off again girlfriend lived not far from the Prestis. “I don’t know if we were the ones who screwed up,” Mahoney said, “but it doesn’t matter, I just feel outraged.” He added, “I feel terrible about this no matter who screwed up.”