I’ve never written an article before, I’m not a writer, and I never thought I’d be writing something like this. I never wanted to have to write something like this.

A dear friend of mine, my former partner, Benny Neel, is never going to wake up.

I worked with Benny for 5 years before I left the Department. Benny has served with Pine County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota since August of 2003 – He is THE best Deputy they have. Hands down.

Pine County SWAT

Pine County SWAT

Benny was born and raised in Pine County, which, although is a large county mile wise, is a “small town” county where everybody, knows everybody.

In his career with Pine County, Benny has been a School Resource Officer, FTO, Firearms/Taser/Search & Rescue Instructor, Search & Rescue Team Member and has been the best SWAT Team Leader. As of 2016, Benny became a K9 Handler with his partner, Chewy. They have an incredible bond.

Benny is the best partner anyone could ask for, he’s an example to be followed. He has the biggest heart, he would do anything, for anyone, always.

He was strong and authoritative when he had to be, but he was more kind and compassionate during his interactions with the public. He was the best friend anyone could hope for – He’s got so much love to give, to everyone.

Benny & Chewy

Benny & Chewy

The majority of his love was given to the love of his life, Jen. Benny & Jen met while working at Pine County Sheriff’s Office; Jen is a Correctional Officer at Pine County Jail.

To see those two together, makes you believe in love. They have such a special bond, they are truly soul mates. Together, they have four children.

Benny has a 15-year-old son from a previous relationship. Jen has an 18-year-old son, William, from a previous relationship that Benny has always treated as his own. Then there’s the ‘babies’ – Gabriel is 7-years-old, Hunter is 6. Jen and Benny were ecstatic to welcome these two little boys to their family, to complete them. They are the sweetest, funniest little boys – They are just like their father.

Benny & Jen

Benny & Jen

On October 25th, 2019 – Benny was in South Dakota hunting with his best friend, Tom Meier, who is a former Sergeant and SWAT Leader with Pine County. Benny collapsed and had a seizure.

He was rushed to a local hospital there, where Doctor’s discovered two masses on his brain. Did I mention, Benny is 37-years-old? Jen & Ben’s lives just stood still – how can you even process that news? Benny saw multiple Doctor’s, had many tests done, and they determined surgery was necessary. Not just one surgery, but multiple would be needed.

On December 11th, 2019 – Benny underwent the first surgery to remove the large tumor behind his right eye.

The surgery last over 7 hours. When the surgery was over, the Doctor’s told Jen that it went as “expected” (I’m sure there’s no “routine” brain surgery).

The Doctor’s tried to take Benny out of sedation after surgery to have him wake up, because that was expected, and the plan. Benny was unresponsive. He had no pain response. They put him back under sedation to figure out what could have happened.

Ofc. Ben Neel Pine County Sheriff's Facebook

Deputy Ben Neel Pine County Sheriff’s Facebook

The discovered Benny had a stroke, sometime after surgery. They knew he still needed time, time for the bleeding to resolve, time for his brain to rest, time for him to come back around. So that’s what everyone did. They waited.

During the waiting period, they were able to take him off of the sedation, but he hasn’t woken up. He had other small procedures done and the Doctors were doing an incredible balancing act. Benny started having pain a response, and other responses. He knew when Jen was there, he’d calm when he heard Jen’s voice, or feel her touch.

You could physically see his heart rate go down when she held his hand.

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Sheriff Deputy, dad of four now surrounded by family for his final moments.  "Cannot survive this."

There were positive signs. There was hope. Now, it’s been 23 days, he hasn’t woken up.

Jen had a Care Conference with Benny’s team of Doctor’s on December 31st, 2019. Jen learned that Benny had a Brain Stem Stroke. Something they believe happened immediately after surgery. It caused too much damage. Benny cannot recover from this.

Jen and their family, have decided to start Comfort Care, Hospice. It is just a punch straight to the gut. How is Benny just, not going to be here anymore? How are we supposed to live in a world that Benny doesn’t? How does Jen tell her baby boys that their Dad isn’t coming home? How do his partners, his team, go on without him?

Benny & Family

Benny & Family

Jen and her family have an amazing support system, but that doesn’t change the tragedy that their family is going through. This wasn’t the plan. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Benny was supposed to recover, and they were supposed to look back on this time like a terrible memory. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Now, Jen has to plan her husband’s funeral. She has to raise her babies without her husband. She has to figure out how to survive without Benny. My heart is breaking, for them, for Benny, for all my other former partners.

There is a GoFundMe page set up for Benny’s family. Jen will need all the support she can get.  


Benny, Jen & Author Sara

Benny, Jen & Author Sara

Thank you so much for sharing Benny’s story. You never know when a loved one will be gone. Appreciate your partners, love your spouses, and make time for your friends. Tell everyone you love them. You never know when the last time will be.

(Lovingly nicknamed “Skillet” by my Pine County Partners)

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