In 2009, in the NSW country town of Armidale, a mentally ill young man is shot dead by a police officer. Senior Constable Andrew Rich claims he ‘had no choice’ other than to shoot 24-year-old Elijah Holcombe — Elijah had run at him roaring with a knife, he tells police.
Some witnesses to the shooting say otherwise, though, and this act of aggression doesn’t fit with the sweet, sensitive, but troubled young man that Elijah’s family and friends knew him to be. The shooting devastates Elijah’s family and the police officer alike.
So what happened in that Armidale laneway — and how could it have been avoided? Waiting for Elijah is the culmination of journalist Kate Wild’s six-year investigation — an investigation that not only seeks to answer these questions, but also poses some vitally important ones of its own: Why is it still so difficult for people to talk about mental illness in a country in which one in five adults each year will experience some kind of mental-health problem? Is it fair to expect police to be first responders in mental-health crises? If the community insists this job belongs to police, how can these interactions be improved?
Written with clear-eyed compassion and a compelling narrative drive, Waiting for Elijah is an account of a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. It is also an intense, forensic deconstruction of the extended legal proceedings that followed, and a heartbreaking portrait of a family’s grief.