Whether a person is in our life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, their essence often leaves an imprint that cannot be washed away by time or tears. Miller Middle School students and staff and Town of Ulster police officers are feeling that permanence of essence in the weeks following the untimely death of 23-year-old school resource officer and town police officer Travis Nissen. Nissen was killed in a car accident after having dinner with his family on Dec. 9, leaving behind his bride of only 14 weeks, Miller special education teacher Kristy Nissen.
Nissen was an Ulster police officer for five years, and according to Ulster Police Chief Matt Taggard, was regarded as beloved family among his squad. The department has never lost an officer before, to Taggard’s recollection. Nick Monaco, retired director of the department’s intelligence technology unit, said age didn’t matter when it came to being friends with Nissen, though he added that they also enjoyed a mentoring relationship with him as well.
Taggard explained that the emotional climate of the small, tight-knit station since the death last month has been “raw,” and many of the officers are still too emotional over the loss to open-up about it. Upon learning about Nissen being transported to the hospital in critical condition, he put out a call to all department members offering the opportunity to come to the hospital to support the family and spend a quiet moment with Travis. Taggard feels that 80 percent of his co-workers choosing to come is a true testament to Nissen’s popularity.
UPD Sgt. Trevor Barringer said he recognizes his own mortality in Nissen’s death; it opened up many questions about the fleeting nature of life and how to best appreciate it. “I took myself back to his age, thought about how much I have had and that I got to spend time with my wife more than a few months — experience the birth of two children and watch them grow to be teenagers.” Barringer admitted that he is suffering survivor’s guilt, and even feels guilty for how the death created closeness within a strained relationship with his teenaged daughter, referring to the uniting circumstances as “unfair.”
“I believe that this experience allowed my daughter and I to re-examine our interactions and realize that we needed to be more tolerant of each other as tragedy can happen to anyone at anytime,” Barringer emphasized. “While I can sit here and report that the tragic loss of [Nissen] definitely contributed to a better relationship between my daughter and I, I would like to express to his family that I would gladly ‘butt heads’ with her on a daily basis if it would only bring their loved one back to them.”
Slideshow image: Travis Nissen with Miller school guidance counselor Scott Ricketson.