The sun was shining when I woke up Thursday morning. A breeze stirred the leaves of the tree in my front yard, while birds chirped merrily away.
In short, it was a beautiful summer day in a quiet residential neighborhood — a stark contrast to just a few hours earlier when Hastings police officers and Nebraska State Patrol troopers descended on the area in search of a man who had shot his ex-wife a few blocks away in another quiet neighborhood.
They blocked surrounding streets with their cruisers and wood blockades. Residents were told to stay in their homes with their doors and windows locked.
And for four hours they waited outside the home of Dave Langenberg, a man I’ve known as a neighbor for 20 years.
My house is directly across the street from Dave’s house. From the picture window in my living room, I can see his front porch — the same porch he stood on as he took his own life shortly after midnight Thursday.
I watched Dave’s kids and his granddaughter grow up in the pale yellow house. His daughter occasionally looked after my cats when I went on vacation. I looked after their cat one weekend.
Last summer Dave crossed the street to bring me a bottle of water because he’d seen me mowing and figured I could use a cold drink. He brought a bottle of water for himself and we sat on the porch and talked for a while. Well, mostly Dave talked. He said his wife, Lana, was divorcing him. He talked about being an alcoholic and drinking so much that he would black out. He talked about his love for motorcycles and how he would go to Sturgis, S.D., every year for the motorcycle rally, getting a motel room with a bunch of his friends who would sack out wherever they could find space.
He talked about what a comfort it was to him that his daughter and granddaughter were living with him.
He kept talking, while I uttered the occasional platitude or comment. I was uncomfortable because I didn’t know Dave that well and I didn’t know what to say.
He was obviously deeply troubled, and I didn’t know how to help him.
I look back now and think about the “what ifs.”
What if I had said the right thing that day on my porch?
What if I had reached out to Dave in the months since that day?
What if I had directed him to someone who would help him?
Dave’s family, friends and other neighbors may be pondering the same questions.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answers.
We’ll never know if anything we could have done could have stopped Dave from shooting Lana and taking his own life.
Another neighbor said to me as we stood on my driveway Thursday morning and she described watching the standoff from the window, she can’t judge Dave. She said there were ongoing issues, as police had been called to his home before the events of Wednesday evening to conduct welfare checks.
All I know is Dave is dead and Lana is fighting for her life. Her life — and the lives of her children and grandchildren — will never be the same.
I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. All I can do is pray for them and hope that together they can survive this tragedy.