RCMP Death and the Genovese Syndrome

October 27, 2007 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Christopher John Worden, Slain RCMP ConstableAs Constable Christopher John Worden, 30, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) lay dying of gunshot wounds to his chest, abdomen and neck in the early morning hours of 6 October, several people saw and heard what happened, but none came to his aid or called police. Officer Worden was found curled up on the ground, about two hours later, by another RCMP officer sent to search for him after radio communication couldn’t be reestablished. Constable Worden was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later at a nearby hospital. The failure to render aid is startling, especially in light of Worden’s capacity as a law enforcement officer.


>Worden had responded about 5:00 a.m. to a report of a suicidal man in Hay River, Northwest Territories and then went to a nearby home. “Const. Worden was not heard from again,” said Yellowknife RCMP Cpl. Michael LeSage, in just-released details of a search warrant application used in the hunt for Worden’s killer. Emrah Bulatci, 23, was arrested in Edmonton on 12 October, after an intensive manhunt in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and charged with first-degree murder in Worden’s death.

Emrah Bulatci in Court on 18 October in Yellowknife, NWTIn the affidavit, one female witness said she saw a police car and a taxi parked outside a residence where she’d been spending time with “Justin.” (Justin Elise was a Bulatci alias.) She said she saw Bulatci running, pursued by Worden, into a wooded area. She heard four or five gunshots coming from the wooded area and saw “fire” coming from that direction. And then, according to CTV News she saw “one of the males snap his head back and fall limp to the ground after the shots.” The taxi driver witnessed the chase and head gun shots about 30 to 40 seconds later but “assumed” that it was Worden shooting at Bulatci and left with two male passengers. A man interviewed by police said that the two taxi passengers and Bulatci visited him later that day; he was told by the two men who had ridden in the taxi that Bulatci “might have hurt a cop,” but Bulatci corrected them and said “Tom, I killed a cop.” Still no phone calls to the police.

Kitty GenoveseWhile Bulatci is in custody in Yellowknife, with his next court appearance scheduled for 13 December, the larger issue is the failure to render aid to Officer Worden, and what it says about us as a society. The phenomenon was first publicized as the “Genovese syndrome,” in reference to a 1964 murder in which Kitty Genovese, 28, was stabbed to death over a period of 30 minutes near her Queens, New York home, while many neighbors either saw parts of the attack or heard her cries for help yet failed to respond. Genovese screamed: “I’m dying! I’m dying!” to no one in particular. At one point, her attacker, Winston Moseley, was scared away, but returned to continue stabbing Genovese, ultimately sexually assaulting her as she lay dying in a hallway. Then he stole $49.00 from her and left her for dead. Genovese died en route to a hospital.
One unidentified neighbor debated calling the police but finally persuaded someone else to make the call, because “I didn’t want to get involved.” Another man turned up his radio volume so he wouldn’t hear Genovese’s screams.

The case shocked the public, and there was much psychological analysis of the phenomenon that came to also be known as the “bystander effect.” The bystander effect is essentially a psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to intervene in an emergency when others are present to help. Basically, everyone assumes that someone else will take the needed actions…and none of them do. City University of New York psychology professor Stanley Milgram once summarized questions raised by Kitty Genovese’s murder, writing: “The case touched on a fundamental issue of the human condition, our primordial nightmare…If we need help, will those around us stand around and let us be destroyed or will they come to our aid? Are those other creatures out there to help us sustain our life and values, or are we individual flecks of dust just floating around in a vacuum?”

Wichita, Kansas Convenience Store Where Lashonda Calloway Lay DyingA similar American instance of failure to render aid in dire circumstances occurred this year and was attributed to “group think” after Lashonda Calloway, a 27-year-old mother of three, lay on the floor of a Wichita, Kansas convenience store in June 2007, stabbed and bleeding, while at least five customers stepped over her to complete their transactions. No one seemed bothered by the situation and no one called 911 for two minutes. Store video showed Ms. Calloway struggled to her feet and collapsed three times without any assistance. In fact, one shopper stepped over Ms. Calloway four times, eventually taking a picture of the victim with her cell phone. The picture appeared briefly on the Internet. Ms. Calloway died at the hospital. The store owner pleaded ignorance, saying that the store was busy at the time and she didn’t think the employee on duty realized anything was going on. (Images of Pinocchio’s lengthening nose spring to mind.) Kansas law regarding failure to render aid only applies to motor vehicle accidents.

RCMP Ceremony

Group think? The Genovese syndrome? Bystander effect? Psychological mumbo-jumbo to explain away unacceptable behavior. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the laws regarding rendering aid in both the United States and Canada, if our own moral values are an insufficient compass to compel bystanders to do the right thing. R.I.P, Officer Worden. You were hard done by, by the citizens whom you, as a police officer, were sworn to protect. They failed you.

Read more Canadian law enforcement news.

Photo credits: Vince Genovese, CP / Jeff McIntosh and RCMP

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