A friendship shines in life’s darkest moments

finney    Suffering is a mystery. When good people such as St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff’s deputies Brandon Nielsen and Jeremy Triche die in the line of duty – sacrificing their lives in a steamy pre-dawn ambush in a LaPlace trailer park – there are no pat or pious answers.
    Anyone – especially those with a dark soul or a culturally altered chromosome – can get his hands on an AK-47. The chilling reality is that when that lost soul pulls the trigger, lives end in a lightning bolt and an Everest of pain is piled atop surviving spouses, children, fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles and friends.
    So, the questions come. Why?
    No matter how hard Daniell Nielsen and Misty Triche, the wives of the two slain deputies, tried to make sense of what had happened to their husbands, they were left staring into the abyss. It took friends, family and clergy to take them by the hand. If they couldn’t provide them with answers, then at least they were going to hold on tightly.
    First, the story of a friend. Lori Lyons is a colleague at The Times-Picayune. For 20 of her 26 years on the job, Lyons has been an award-winning prep sportswriter, mostly covering schools in the River Parishes. Two years ago, her bosses moved her away from balls and strikes to the police beat, where she had absolutely no idea how to cover a murder-suicide or a school bus crash.
    So like a good reporter, Lyons learned to ask the right questions. It just so happened that her absolute best friend – Daniell Nielsen – owned a manicuring business, Bliss, in Destrehan. Every two weeks, Lyons would trudge into Bliss and put her hands into Nielsen’s. “For two or three hours, we would laugh and giggle and have fun,” Lyons said. “I love her.”
    They became such good friends that they were always at each other’s house. Once they were laughing so much around Lyons’ backyard swimming pool that they almost forgot that Lily, Nielsen’s youngest daughter, was in the pool and started gulping water.
    As a newbie on the police beat, Lyons got some good-natured ribbing from Deputy Nielsen when she showed up at the scene of a bus crash on her first day as a news reporter. Nielsen was directing traffic around the accident.
    “He laughed at me and said, ‘Uh-oh, here comes the sports reporter. Don’t get run over, now,’” Lyons recalled.
    To get back at him, Lyons took a cell phone picture of him directing traffic and ran it big on the T-P website.
    So when the news came from her editor the morning of Aug. 16 that two deputies had been shot and killed, Lyons gasped when the editor spelled the names for her.
    “She said, ‘Landon,’ and I said, ‘Landon,’ but then she corrected herself and said ‘Brandon ... Nielsen,’ and I just started screaming,” Lyons said.
    Lyons then was faced with a choice. It was easy. There was no way she was going to be a reporter that day. She was a friend – and her best friend needed her. Lyons convinced Daniell to go River Parishes Hospital, where the slain deputies had been transferred. When Daniell confided that there was no way she could view her husband’s body, Lyons volunteered to do that, but it never came to that.
    Later, on the way back to the Nielsens’ house, Lyons counseled Daniell about the possibility TV satellite trucks would be parked on her front lawn. Lyons said it was time to think about funeral arrangements and offered to write the obituary.
    At the house, 6-year-old Lily Nielsen walked up to her mother with a glittery silver Band-Aid. “Here, Mommy, here’s a Band-Aid for your heart,” Lily said.
    “Just everybody in the whole house said, ‘Oh, my God,’” Lyons said.
    Lyons even had a connection with Jeremy Triche, who graduated from St. Charles Catholic High School in 2002 and was the starting center on the football team and catcher on the baseball team. Triche was a graduate of St. Joan of Arc Elementary School, and Father John Nhan Tran, the St. Joan pastor, was at the hospital to pray with the family.
    How do you pray – what do you say – at a time like this? Father Tran told the Triche family his own story. Before he escaped with relatives from Vietnam in 1975, Father Tran’s mother had been killed in 1968 by someone who wrongly thought she was a communist. In 1973, Father Tran’s brother was killed when he stepped on a land mine.
    “I was hoping that my personal experience would let them know that even though these are dark days, that God had not abandoned me,” Father Tran said. “That cross will always be with me. However, we have to place our trust in God. I share in a small way some of their pain. I believe it is because of that that I’m where I am today. God has been faithful and will take care of us.”
    On Sept. 30, Lyons will leave The Times-Picayune, one of more than 200 reporters who have been told their services are no longer needed. Her service as a friend was the only story that counted last week.
    “I was just playing it by ear the whole day, and when I got back to the office, that’s when I had my first little breakdown,” Lyons said. “I was just hysterical. I felt I kind of needed to apologize to my coworkers, because I didn’t know what to do. I put together some bios and I was able to provide some color and background. But that was it. I was stuck. I felt bad for them, but I needed to do for Daniell first. I was her friend.”
    Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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