Be careful when you open your voice mail. The whole town is crying.
''Normally, I'm a pretty hardhearted guy,'' said Harry Albert of the East End. ''But this time, the tears won't stop.''
''My heart goes out to these families,'' sobbed Beth Payne of Hamilton. ''It could have been my husband. He's a policeman.''
They were talking about the deaths of two Cincinnati police officers, Daniel Pope and Ronald Jeter. This waste of life has given everyone a reason to mourn.
The tragedy moved me to write a column about how these deaths put a human face - make that two human faces - on a job that is extremely dangerous. And, all too easily taken for granted.
Reaction to the column has been swift, strong and unstinting.
''I'm 70 and something like this makes me scared for all of us. Not only old, white women like me.'' - Judy Wilson, Mount Auburn.
''This loss puts life into perspective.'' - John Jack, Mount Adams.
''We do not . . . accept the thought of losing our lives while serving the public trust,'' faxed Deer Park Police Officer Michael F. Schlie. ''The only thing we ask for is the public's support.''
Bidding her husband goodbye as he went to work, Daniel Pope's wife would always say: ''Be careful.'' Readers noted how that wish must now be expressed by all families.
''When you wrote that cops worry if they'll come home after their shift, you made me realize that in this crazy world, every time we kiss our loved ones goodbye, whether they're police officers or not, it might be the last time we see them.'' - Ed Midgett, West Chester.
''Give them extra hugs when they leave. Pray that they return.'' - Alice Hopewell, Symmes Township.
''All families should read your column and remind everyone that life is precious.'' - John Stephen Heery, East Walnut Hills.
To the extended family of police officers and their relatives, the deaths of Ronald Jeter and Daniel Pope were chilling reminders of what can happen on the job.
''That hit very close to home. I have two offspring who are police officers. I thank God every night that they got home safe.'' - Roy Herman, Covedale.
''What those guys were doing that night is what all officers do. I did it for 27-and-a-half years before I retired from the force in Cincinnati. They were trying to protect the city. I hope everyone remembers that when they see a police officer.'' - Jim Howe, Anderson Township.
''Thank you for 'Tragedy puts face on job.' I am sure that you did not want to write it as much as I did not want to read it.'' - Lt. Barry E. Ashton, Rockland, Mass., Police Department.
Describing a killer
Many readers took note of my description of the officers' killer, Alonzo Davenport - who commited suicide after the shootings.
He had a history of hitting women. He attacked the mother of one of his two little girls and was charged with trying to choke the other. He was also wanted for using drugs and passing a bad check.
A neighbor said he was ''nice.'' To me, he was a miserable excuse for a human being. Some readers took issue with my description. Others wanted me to take a bow.
''Although I probably would have used a few more descriptive adjectives, I was encouraged to see a reporter have the courage to portray this individual as he truly was.'' - Thomas C. Lakamp, North Bend.
''Your description of the man was accurate. . . . He should have been in jail. What is it going to take to get judges to impose hard sentencing?'' - Wanda Bigelow, Mount Healthy.
''If he was 'nice,' change that word's definition in the dictionary.'' - Steve Gilbert, Clifton.
''Alonzo Davenport was a father. That means there are orphaned children who themselves are now at increased risk of becoming outsiders in this society,'' Timothy E. Nolan faxed from Colerain Township.
''Hate the crime,'' he added, ''not the criminal.''
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.