Frederick police Detective Dave Baumhover fled the restaurant when the two little girls walked in. Even hundreds of miles away in Phoenix, he couldn’t escape reminders of the case he was trying to move past.
At the sight of the girls, he once again was at the Weld County oil site where eight months ago he had recovered the bodies of Bella and Celeste Watts. In movie-like detail, he saw the hazmat crew pull their bodies from the oil storage tanks where they had been dumped by their father. He smelled the oil that coated them. He saw their mother’s shallow grave nearby.
The trip was supposed to be a chance for him to clear his head after leading the investigation into the murders of the girls and their pregnant mother, Shanann Watts. The killer, father and husband to the victims, had already confessed and received multiple life sentences. Baumhover’s work was done.
But as he bolted from the restaurant to the parking lot to escape the flashback — rage, grief and anxiety flooding his body — he knew it would take more than a trip to heal the post-traumatic stress disorder he was diagnosed with after the case. He knew he would need time before he could see little girls without being triggered.
“It’s like when you’re a kid and you go on the wrong carnival ride and all you want to do is get off,” he said. “But you can’t. You have no choice until the ride shuts off.”
A year after the high-profile murders shocked Colorado and drew international attention to the small Weld County town, some of those who investigated the case still are grappling with its impact. They suffer nightmares about oil wells or are haunted by a lasting memory of the girls’ giggles. Veteran law enforcement officers can’t shake images of the well site where their bodies were recovered. Intense public and media interest in the case continues, making it difficult for investigators to heal.
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