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.
`Wild's prose is evocative and personal ... [she] tells us about herself because she wants us to understand what underpins her obsession with the case, as well as to convey the emotional impact that such intensive reporting can have on the reporter ... She conducts an equally frank tussle with the moral issues of writing a story that belongs to so many people. "Whoever spoke controlled the narrative," she writes of the family's openness and Rich's avoidance; her words also speak to the whole complicated business of journalism as well.' - The Saturday Paper
`Kate Wild's Waiting for Elijah is brave, balanced, and profound; wrestling with the fatal police shooting of a young mentally ill man, Wild reveals a compelling investigation into mental illness and the police on the frontline of psychosis. A beautiful writer, Wild's Waiting for Elijah is a thrilling debut.' - Anna Krien
`[A] forensic dissection of the crime scene with equal parts compassion and a hawk-eye for detail ... [W]hat unfolds beneath the atmospheric retelling of the shooting is a deeper discussion into how society perceives and reacts towards mental illness ... a totally immersive treat for non-fiction and fiction lovers alike ... We recommend Waiting For Elijah unreservedly.' - Better Reading
`Waiting for Elijah is Wild's attempt to understand why Holcombe's life ended in an Armidale laneway ... why was Holcombe shot by police when he had no prior record and was, according to his family, "absolutely non-violent by nature"? Wild expects the story to unfold predictably: a family enraged by a ham-fisted and trigger-happy police force, and a son with a secret drug habit or history of random violence. It doesn't take long to realise the case is much more complex than that.' - Australian Book Review
`At its simplest, Waiting for Elijah is an exploration of the devastating effects of a police force ill-equipped to deal with mental illness. Wild's personal story, though, brings a depth to her investigation, and she doesn't grab for any easy take-home messages. Instead, she probes the complexities of the issue, and reaches finally for a kind of forgiveness - for the policeman who shot Elijah, but also, perhaps, for herself.' - The Adelaide Advertiser