They arrived quietly, takings cabs and Uber to the hotel.
They were greeted by photos of their fallen officers, a cup of coffee and welcoming arms.
Relationships that had been forged over the internet became real and emotions were overwhelming. These were the families who lost an officer to suicide.
They came from around the country; police and corrections, all ages, genders, races and duty status.
A small group, known as Blue H.E.L.P., attracted sponsors like Axon, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Grunt Style, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) and National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) to make a dream come true for 140 family members.
On May 11, 2019, Blue H.E.L.P.and their sponsors brought 40 families to Police Week Washington, D.C. to honor the service of officers lost to suicide for the first time ever.
“Now, Therefore, I, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate May 15, 1963, and May 15 of each succeeding year, as Peace Officers Memorial Day, in honor of those peace officers who, through their courageous deeds, have lost their lives or have become disabled in the performance of duty.”
Those last 9 words are missing from most Police Week pages and memorials, they were not missing from the dinner.
Physically and emotionally injured were honored, recognized for their commitment to their community until their chosen career permanently altered their well-being.
A temporary memorial was erected with the photos of those we lost to suicide and one hundred and sixty-five candles were lit for the lives lost to suicide in 2018, tears were in abundance when families saw that they had not been forgotten.
At the dinner, Dave Bray USA performed “Last Call” and “The Survivor”, John Preston performed “The Dance” and Jon Adler, Director, Bureau of Justice Assistance was the keynote speaker.
Janice McCarthy, widow and founder of Care of Police Suicide Survivors (C.O.P.S.S.) awarded scholarships to children who lost their parent to suicide. It was a humbling event which further penetrates the stigma associated with suicide.
“Over the course of this weekend, everything I was hopeful for has changed in a profound way. I believe you are my chance, and the chance of every family who sat in that ballroom. I don’t know the exact moment it hit but I realized with your leadership and drive, the whole Blue H.E.L.P. team will be forever remembered as the force which brought dignity and honor back to fallen officers like my own.”
Honor and dignity should remain, no one should have to bring it back.
The officers we lost to suicide are as much a part of the blue family as those lost to any of the 20+ causes of death that constitute line of duty.
Their families suffer a greater shock as many of them witness the death or find the officer’s body.; they need an unimaginable amount of support to recover from their loss.
If they can forgive, understand and grieve them honorably, why can’t we?
As an unofficial Police Week event, the dinner will return in 2020.
They will silently and proudly return; they won’t have media headlines; their headline will be the embrace of understanding that has returned them to the blue line. As Director Adler said:
“The manner in which we depart this life does not undefine us.”