NEW YORK: Seventeen years after Detective Kevin Green first delivered the grim news that a loved one had been killed, the day is still vivid in his mind.

“I remember distinctly it was a Saturday, and it was around 3:50 in the afternoon,” said Green, then an East Orange, New Jersey, police detective who was about to tell a school crossing guard that her son had been shot and killed.

“It’s a very emotional moment,” he said. “You’re telling a mom that she’s just lost her child.”

Green, now a homicide investigator with the Essex County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office, has made hundreds of “next-of-kin notifications” since then, but they remain one of the toughest parts of his job. It never gets easier, he says.

Between mass shootings, neighbourhood homicides, suicides and traffic fatalities, people like Green become messengers of death tens of thousands of times a year in the United States. It was a duty that last week fell upon first responders after a gunman killed five people at a Maryland newspaper office.

Receiving the news of a loved one’s death shatters most families, but it also takes a toll on those who deliver it.

“We won’t admit it, we won’t talk about it, but none of us sleep real good, and it weighs on you,” said Lieutenant Tom Kelly, who in his 15 years working homicide at the Essex County Prosecutor’s office has supervised hundreds of murder cases.

Complicating matters is that murders often are still unsolved when families are notified. Investigators may need to ask personal questions, such as whether the victim used drugs, at a time when loved ones are just beginning to process the news, he said.

“Sometimes we’ll let that kind of questioning go a day or two,” said Kelly, whose jurisdiction covers Newark and 20 other municipalities west of New York City.

Investigators also need to be careful not to say too much about the crime, he said, because once in a while the next of kin turns out…

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