Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two Heroes: Connected in Death, Remembered in Life

New York City Police Detective Russel Timoshenko and Pennsylvania State Trooper Joshua Miller never knew each other in life. Over the past two years, however, the two law enforcement heroes have become inexorably connected through their separate line-of-duty deaths.

And now, thanks to the generosity of Detective Timoshenko’s NYPD colleagues and supporters, when the National Law Enforcement Museum opens in Washington, DC, in 2013, the service and sacrifice of both Detective Timoshenko and Trooper Miller will be honored side-by-side on the Museum’s “Thin Blue Line.”

This story of tragedy and, ultimately, hope began July 9, 2007. Then-Officers Timoshenko and Herman Yan were on patrol in Brooklyn’s 71st Precinct when they stopped a suspicious vehicle that was displaying license plates registered to another car. As the officers approached the vehicle, which turned out to be stolen, the occupants opened fire.

Officer Timoshenko was struck twice in the face from a .45 caliber handgun. Officer Yan was hit in the arm and chest by a 9mm handgun, but his protective vest saved his life. After fighting valiantly for five days, Russel Timoshenko succumbed to his injuries on July 14, 2007. Later than month, he and Officer Yan were both promoted to Detective and awarded the Medal of Honor, Timoshenko’s recognition coming posthumously. Detective Timoshenko’s name is engraved on Panel 16-West, Line 26 of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC.

Two days after the shooting, a task force consisting of NYPD detectives, along with members of the Pennsylvania State Police, U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies, arrested two of the suspects on I-80 in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. One of the officers instrumental in making the arrest that day: Trooper Joshua Miller, a Marine who had joined the Pennsylvania State Police four years earlier.

Fast forward almost two years, to June 7, 2009. Trooper Miller and his partner were attempting to apprehend a kidnapping suspect—a man who had taken a 9-year-old boy at gunpoint from his mother and led police on a 40-mile pursuit. As the troopers approached the vehicle after it had been stopped, the suspect opened fire, striking Trooper Miller in the neck. A law enforcement hero who helped arrest two cop killers from New York had, himself, been cut down.

To honor Detective Timoshenko, NYPD officers Simone Oliva, Nick Gentile and others organized the Fraternal Order of Police, Police Detective Russel Timoshenko Memorial Lodge #714 on Staten Island. That’s where Officers Gentile and Timoshenko had grown up as childhood friends, playing ball, learning to ride motorcycles and joining the NYPD together.

Upon receiving formal approval for the new lodge in December 2008, members immediately set out to organize a motorcycle run in Detective Timoshenko’s honor the next July. Organizers hoped to raise enough money to put Detective Timoshenko’s name on the Museum’s “Thin Blue Line,” which recognizes donors of $1,000 or more. Officer Oliva, who serves as Lodge #714 president, expected maybe 100 motorcycles for this inaugural run. They got 387 instead.

View a New York 1 report on the Russel Timoshenko motorcycle run

With the additional money they had raised, the lodge decided to reach out to troopers in Pennsylvania about making a “Thin Blue Line” donation in Trooper Miller’s name as well. “I think we have a special connection with Pennsylvania,” said Officer Oliva. “Without these guys’ dedication and support, we wouldn’t have guys behind bars right now paying the price for Russel’s murder.” Troopers in Pennsylvania applauded the idea.

Next, Lodge #714 members decided that, rather than just mailing in their donation to the Museum, they would deliver it in person—on their motorcycles, of course.

Sunday, August 9, happened to be Motorcycle Day at Washington Nationals Park in DC, with a special ticket package benefitting the NLEOMF. So Officers Oliva and Gentile, along with Stacey Perlongo (special events coordinator for the lodge) and other supporters rode their motorcycles from Staten Island to southwest DC to enjoy an afternoon of fellowship and baseball—and present their donations directly to John Shanks, NLEOMF Director of Law Enforcement Relations. “Seeing as Russel liked his motorcycle so much, whatever we can do on our bikes, we do that,” explained Officer Oliva.

Lodge #714 continues to work with Detective Timoshenko’s parents on ways to honor the memory of their son. Members recently bought a brick engraved with his name outside the headquarters of the New York State FOP in Hicksville, and they are working to erect a bust of their fallen colleague at a Staten Island soccer field recently named in his honor.

“There’s nobody I’ve met like that,” Officer Gentile told a local television station on the day of the motorcycle run in July. “He was such a happy, funny guy. Anything he did he brought life to. That’s what this is all about.”

25 Years Later: Saluting a Fallen Hero and His Amazing Family

When the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was dedicated on October 15, 1991, one of the more than 12,600 names initially engraved on the monument was Christopher Eney, a sergeant with the United States Capitol Police. Sergeant Eney was killed in a training accident in August 1984, the first member of the U.S. Capitol Police to die in the line of duty.

That October day, the name of another member of the Eney family -- Chris's wife, Vivian -- was also unveiled on the Memorial. Over the years, her name -- along with her succinct, yet incredibly powerful quote engraved under the lion statue in the monument's northwest corner -- have been read by millions of people: "It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived."

On Tuesday, August 18, Vivian, her two daughters, Shannen and Heather, and other family members joined U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse; Kevin Morison, NLEOMF Senior Director of Communications; and other officers, friends and supporters at the Memorial for a 25th anniversary remembrance of Sergeant Christopher Eney. Vivian and Chief Morse laid a wreath at the Memorial's center medallion, and Vivian, her daughters and several of her grandchildren then placed roses in the wreath. During the ceremony, Chief Morse also announced that the Chamber Training Venue within the Capitol Police's Practical Applications Center in Cheltenham, MD, is being named in Sergeant Eney's honor. The chamber mimics a house of Congress and is used to train officers for emergency response operations within the Capitol.

NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig Floyd, a longtime friend of Vivian and her family, was unable to attend the ceremony. He did compose the following note, which Kevin Morison read at the event.

Dear Vivian and Family:

I deeply regret that I cannot be there with you in person as we honor and remember the 25th anniversary of Chris's line-of-duty death. Thank you, though, for allowing me the privilege of sharing a few thoughts on this special occasion.

I will always remember that it was you, Vivian, who taught me the importance of building the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. You impressed upon me just how much mere notes or other expressions of condolence mean to the loved ones of officers who make the ultimate sacrifice. I realized then how meaningful a lasting national monument with their loved one's name would be to a survivor.

I want to take this opportunity to also tell you what wonderful role models you, Shannen and Heather have been to others who have followed in your footsteps. As the only three-year National President of Concerns of Police Survivors, you reached out a helping hand to many in need of comfort and support. The way all of you have lived your life, putting the shattered pieces back together again and finding joy in the many blessings that have come your way since Chris's death, is an inspiration to us all.

Vivian, you were among a handful of leaders who turned the dream of this national monument to reality. You were the deciding voice in favor of the lion statues -- and what a stroke of genius they turned out to be! And, of course, it is your poignant quote on these walls that has explained to millions of visitors the essence of this monument: "It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived."

Finally, let me share an observation about Phil Morse, Dan Nichols, Doug Shugars and the entire U.S. Capitol Police family. You have brought great honor to your department and set the example for others by the way you have always remembered and paid tribute to Chris and his family. You were always there at the graduations, the weddings and other milestone moments, and you are here once again today.

When I told Vivian I was to speak to a Capitol Police Academy Class last year, she said, "Give them a message from me. Tell them the Capitol Police were always there for me and my family, and they will always be there for you and yours."

Each day a framed commemorative print with images of Chris Eney, J.J. Chestnut and John Gibson overlooking the Capitol greets me as I enter my office. It inspires me to work as hard as I can every day to honor the law enforcement profession and all who serve. And, for good measure, I often stop by Panel 1W-Line 8 and think about what Chris Eney has meant to his family, his community and his country. He and his fallen colleagues will always be honored and never forgotten.



Friday, August 14, 2009

Handmade Banner Honors Law Enforcement Sacrifice

Five years ago, Police Chaplain David Matthew Duffany of Riverdale, MD, attended a service at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial with his friend, Sergeant Steven Gaughan of the Prince George's County (MD) Police Department. Chaplain Duffany recalls interacting with a woman that day who helped him more fully appreciate something very important about the Memorial: the names on its walls are more than law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice; they are husbands and wives, sons and daughters ... people like the rest of us who did something very extraordinary.

To show his support for law enforcement and the survivors these heroes left behind, Chaplain Duffany began constructing a banner with patches of law enforcement agencies represented on the Memorial. The banner began with just three patches, but over time Chaplain Duffany acquired many more during events such as National Police Weeks. The pair had always intended to donate the banner to the collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum.

Tragically, Sergeant Gaughan never had a chance to see the finished product. On July 21, 2005, he was shot and killed following a traffic stop in Laurel, MD. The 15-year veteran left behind a wife and two children. His name is engraved on Panel 27-West, Line 25 of the Memorial. Chaplain Duffany says the banner reminds him that his friend is still with him. He hopes it can provide hope and comfort to other survivors as well.

In July, Chaplain Duffany stopped by the NLEOMF offices to show the banner to NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig Floyd. Thanks to Chaplain Duffany, Sergeant Gaughan's service and sacrifice will be forever represented in a banner that the two men worked on together to honor all of law enforcement's heroes.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Police Unity Tour 2009: A Time to Remember

Chairman & CEO

It was a perfect day for a bike ride-temperatures in the low 70s, with overcast skies. Hundreds of riders had gathered in a hotel parking lot in East Hanover, New Jersey, for the kick-off of the 2009 Police Unity Tour.

Over the next four days (May 9-12), these officers and other groups starting in the southern part of New Jersey and the towns of Chesapeake and Portsmouth, Virginia, would ride bicycles some 300 miles to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. They would do so in honor of America's fallen law enforcement heroes. Their motto is short and powerful: "We ride for those who died."

I was preparing to join them for the first 20-mile leg of the journey to Newark, New Jersey, when a friend and organizer of the Tour, Jimmy Waldron, said there was someone I needed to meet. He brought me over and introduced me to a woman named Miriam Fernandez. Jimmy explained that Miriam was the mother of Alex Del Rio, a Hollywood, Florida police officer who had been killed in an automobile crash on November 22, 2008, while pursuing a speeding motorist. Miriam had flown to New Jersey so she could meet the remarkable men and women participating in the Tour, especially Jim Manley, a New York officer who was riding in Alex's honor. She talked to me about how proud she was of Alex and how important it was to keep his memory alive. The Tour would help, she said, as would a special foundation she had started back in Florida in Alex's name.

Later on, I would open Alex's file kept at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, to learn more about this special person. I learned he was 31 years old when he died and had served for almost 10 years. The press clippings described him as an exceptional police officer who loved his job. Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner described Alex as "a beautiful human being . . . I am blessed and proud to have known him," he said.

At his funeral, Miriam read from a letter she had written to her son. She vowed to carry on in life the way Alex would have wanted. "I will live, love and laugh a lot," she said. "Go in peace, my son. You are my hero and my angel in the sky."

Meeting Miriam Fernandez was one of many poignant moments from the 2009 Police Unity Tour....

Read the full article
Originally published in American Police Beat, July 2009