A Thought: One Year Today

I took this photo the morning of 3/1/2016. It was a beautiful spring morning and I decided to take the 50-minute walk to my lab instead of taking the trolley. It was a perfect commute and I commemorated it with this picture. I put some appropriate hashtags with the image (#morningcommute #nofilterneeded #agooddaytovote) and went about my day. Now, I think of this picture as the picture-when-everything-was-still-good. It was a generic Tuesday after that  — I taught a stats lab, had office hours, enjoyed a talk at our division’s lunch lecture series, sat through a lab meeting, and probably did some reading. At some point, Jared and I went to vote in the Virginia primaries.

In the afternoon, I was supposed to work out with my friend, Peter. But, he’d had a rough day because he’d recently lost someone he cared about and so he suggested we have a drink at the local brewery instead. I’d had a few sips of beer and we’d just gotten an appetizer when Jared came rushing through the door and found us at the bar. He told me to come with him right now. I gave Peter a look, raising my eyebrows, jokingly indicating wonder-what-could-this-be. But then I saw Jared’s expression. I became confused. As he pulled me toward the door, I stopped him, all of the sudden in a panic. I asked him what happened. I think he just said again that I needed to come with him. I stopped walking and asked him again what happened. He uttered the words: “Your brother. He’s been shot. He’s gone.

Jared somehow got me outside of the brewery. He ran back to Peter to tell him we had to go. Somehow, he maneuvered me back to the apartment, just a few blocks walk away. I walked and collapsed, walked and collapsed towards home, crying over and over again “It can’t be! It can’t be!”

It’s odd how your mind plays tricks on you when you’re in shock. My thinking wasn’t making any sense. Somehow, I booked our flights, intermittently begging a god I don’t believe in for this to please not be true. Then, I thought about whether I could still go to the conference two weeks away. Little did I know I wouldn’t be able to do any kind of work for months. Then, I realized I had to pack, but I couldn’t understand what you’re supposed to pack for your brother’s funeral. I decided to stuff a suitcase full of already-worn clothes because I figured I’d worn them already, so I knew they’d at least match. Then, I threw some black items into the suitcase as well. I realized that my grandmother was sound asleep in Switzerland, and I knew I had to lock her out of her Facebook account or she’d see what had happened online. So, I did that next. I called cousins in various parts of the world and charged them with telling their branch of the family what had happened. I called a few of my closest friends — one after the other, each started to scream or plead when I told them what happened. Jared called my advisor and arranged for neighbors and friends to take care of our pets while we traveled.

Somehow, we got on a flight. Somehow, as I sat at Philly airport waiting for the connection, alternating between total shock and sobs, Jared picked up bagels in case we wanted to eat something later. But, we wouldn’t really eat for days. We arrived in Dallas, and I ran right by the officer who had been sent to get us. I don’t know where I thought I was rushing to, just that I needed to get there. She caught up with me and directed us into a private room while our luggage was found. Soon after, I arrived wherever my family was (I still have no clue where that was) and walked in thinking: “This can’t be right. They look normal.” Well, it was right. 

Next, decisions had to be made about the service. Speeches had to be written. An urn chosen. We had to help family from abroad arrive. We had a slideshow to make for the viewings. We had to attend those viewings. I remember getting, literally, hundreds of hugs at one of the viewings. Hundreds. Tight bear-hugs, one after the other, from all the officers. I was weeping, inconsolable, and it was almost as if the tears were squeezed out of me. We were driven from one thing to the next, always with the motorcade of blue lights flashing ahead and behind us. I remember the absolute outrage in the bus when someone cut off the motorcade. None of us could eat, but we drank a lot of Fireball, because that was Dave’s favorite. Finally, there was the big service at Pennington Field. As Our bus rounded the corner, leaving Marta and Dave’s house to head to the service, two little boys stood outside of a home, quietly waving American flags. The bus fell silent. That image is seared into my mind. I will never forget those boys. Just as I will never forget the agony of Dave’s Last Call, beautifully and gut-wrenchingly done by one of the dispatchers.

Next, we had to make plans for and decisions about the service at St. Patrick’s cathedral in NYC. More family traveled to NYC, then did we, with a water cannon salute bidding us goodbye from Dallas. We were taken, by motorcade, from Newark Airport to NYC, all the roads had been blocked and we were flying though an empty Lincoln tunnel before we maneuvered empty NYC streets, and we were finally greeted by dozens of NYPD officers, some in uniform others in civilian clothing, saluting us as we entered the hotel. 

 It goes on and on. I will never be able to put down all the details of what happened in those few days. I can’t even make sense of much of the timeline. 

I’m not quite sure what made want to write this all out and put it “out there” for the world. Maybe, in a way, I’m still trying to understand what happened. Maybe, I just want the world to understand that my brother was not just a uniform. He was an amazing, beautiful, hilarious, intelligent, loving soul, and every single day, hour to hour, minute to minute, his loss lingers over everything we do. Maybe, I’m trying to figure out how to move forward. I think many of us touched by this tragedy are making it through our days, somehow, but completely unsure of how exactly we’re doing it. Finally, at least part of the reason for writing this is because I want to acknowledge the literally hundreds of people who have been there for our family over the course of the last year, and the thousands more who have sent us their thoughts and prayers every day. I learned that tragedy brings out the best and worst in people. Some friendships didn’t withstand this storm, but at the same time, total strangers have become unbelievable sources of comfort and strength. 

The moving-forward-part, though, is much harder to comprehend. I’m not sure how to do that. There’s no recipe for this. A driving force for me has been to think about how I can make an impact in a way that would make Dave proud. So, I’m thinking a lot about that. But, no matter how unclear it all still is, I think there are some lessons we can take directly from Dave. As young as he was when he was taken from us, there was a kind of wisdom to how he lived his life. We just need to look at what he did, to know what we can do too. Like him, let’s love our families. Let’s invest in our friendships. Let’s not worry too much about spending that dollar or smoking that cigar or having that drink. More than anything, let’s care for one another, and ideally, make each other smile or laugh while doing it.

Dave, I miss you beyond words. You were my best friend.

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A Thought: The Euless Police Department Awards Banquet

Last week, my family and I traveled to Texas to spend time with Dave’s love, friends and colleagues at the Euless PD Awards Banquet. It’s always unexpected to me how much it helps my soul to be around those who loved and respected Dave most. People who have that link to Dave offer a comforting place from which to experience the range of emotions we go through everyday as we somehow try to reach a “new normal” without him.

The awards banquet was tough but also beautiful. We even met and heard about the actions of people who we didn’t even know had been involved in the tragic events following Dave’s loss. It seems to me that hundreds of people provided their assistance — besides the obvious, officers, EMT, hospital staff, nurses, doctors and more, there were so many businesses, organizations, and city administrators who made sure everything ran smoothly, or who donated their services. Our family had no clue, for the most part.

So, just to really make sure we say it again: THANK YOU.

And, thank you, most of all to everyone who loved and continues to love Dave.

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A Thought: On Strength

People tell us that they admire our strength. Honestly, I don’t feel strong. I don’t think my parents feel strong either. Many days we’re not quite sure how we made it through. In the early weeks after Dave was killed, my mom would say that she didn’t know how she was breathing, and we all knew exactly what she meant. Now, things are a little more manageable.

I guess.

It’s so hard to put into words what life is like now.

My life looks, mostly, “normal.” I walk my dogs. I shop for food and cook. I go to the gym. I attend classes, run data analyses, teach, have meetings and write reports. So, anyone looking in would see a busy grad student. But, mostly it feels like a facade. Just underneath the surface, more often than not I’m thinking about what happened on March 1st, about how long it’s been, about missing Dave. There are constant reminders of him everywhere I look. If I see a patrol car pass, I wish I could talk to the officer – to feel closer to Dave’s experiences, to thank the officer for doing their job, to talk to someone who knows on some level what all of this means (so far, no luck — I’m much too boring for the police to pay attention to me!). When I see a bird of prey overhead, I remember how much he loved them. He could identify the exact type of bird by their outline as he watched them from below. When someone mentions their sibling, I feel a knot in my stomach. When I see something ridiculous, I hear the joke Dave would have made. Sometimes, I manage a chuckle.

Spending time with my family and people who knew and loved Dave is the time when I have permission to let what’s under the surface come to the forefront. In those moments, with those people, I can just be in that grief – however it may express itself. Instead of pushing my thoughts and feelings to the side, I can let them come and go. The best part is, everyone understands. I think that in allowing myself that time, I can work on building myself up again.

So, whatever strength I have is coming from the love and care around me. The grand gestures aren’t what makes this easier — it’s the little reminders that you’re thinking of us: the random texts to say hi and the absurd snapchats that are best forgotten soon after opening. It’s the clever, gritty jokes that remind me so much of Dave’s sense of humor. It’s getting made fun of for being a “tree-hugger” or “super-liberal” (I imagine a cape-wearing superhero). It’s the little tributes to Dave that pop up regularly on Facebook, or just new comments on old posts. I see you think of him and of us, and I know you’re sharing our burden.

So, we may not feel strong, but I guess we’re still standing, still taking one step at a time into, hopefully, brighter days ahead. We’re doing what needs to be done, and we’re doing it with you by our side. So, thank you.

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Our table in the Texas Senate chamber for the Star of Texas ceremony on 9/12/16

On Your Birthday

Today, you would have been 30, baby bro. Today, I should have been able to call you and sing you an atrocious rendition of “happy birthday.” I should have been able to tell you that you’re officially old, and you should have been able to tell me that I’m older still. I should have been able to tease you about having to look out for those hangovers that would all of the sudden start, probably even with that night’s celebration. 

I should have been able to welcome you into one of the best years of your life: a year where you and your love would have had your beautiful wedding day with all your “best buddies” (since you could never restrict yourself to only one best man); a year filled with Mickey’s shenanigans in your newly renovated first home; a year where you FaceTime me from your fire-pit, a glass of whiskey and stogie in hand, just to show me how amazing your pool looked and to tell me that life is good; a year of constant requests to come visit again, or you know, to just move to Texas already; a year of texts to show me the newest smoker experiment and, probably, tell me there’s Fireball in the marinade; a year of super-impressive dubsmashes and wildly inappropriate, yet surprisingly artistic, snapchats; a year of random much-too-generous gifts for the people you loved; a year of ridiculous German accents and impressions; a year of gym selfies showing off your “godlike physique” and updating on the circumference of your biceps; a year of spreading only the biggest laughs and the deepest care. 

We should have been able to tell you to have an amazing day celebrating, envisioning only the most wonderful things for you. Instead, we’re left with only the memories that have already been written.

You are so, so loved. And, you are so, so missed. The amount of love you have generated in others is beyond comprehension. If we can achieve the same in our lifetime, we will have done well. 

Today, we’ll raise our glasses to you. We’ll cry for you. We’ll laugh for you. And, most of all, we’ll try to live our lives a bit more like you did, ’cause let’s face it: you had this living-thing down. 

A Story: The Legend of Stonewall

“As promised (although somewhat delayed), here is the true story of how Dave and Mike became the stars of Stonewall for a night.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was flirting with me.  This was a rare occurrence, so when she invited me to her birthday party at the Stonewall Inn, I of course said yes.  Well, after Jessie and my boss told me to say yes.  The appointed date arrived and the 3 of us set out after work to join the festivities already in progress.  We walked through the door and as we started upstairs to the party, who should we see but the birthday girl. And her girlfriend. 

Obviously this night was not going to go the way I’d hoped.

But, we were already there and there was no way to make a graceful exit so soon.  In an effort to salvage the night, we racked our brains trying to think of who we could get to come out with us.  The rest of the platoon had undoubtedly gone home already, but almost immediately two names sprang to mind: Hofer and Sarro.  Regardless of the fact that it was after midnight, and they weren’t even working that day, there was no question in any of our minds that they would be together and they would come out with us.  Sure enough, when Jessie sent her text, it was met with a yes and a request for an address.

Shortly thereafter, Dave and Mike fought their way through the crowd and found us.  The first question they asked was: “So, what kind of place is this?”  Upon learning that it was a gay bar, they shrugged and ordered a drink. 

They then commenced to dance with each other and every girl around them. 

At one point, there was a girl standing behind Dave.  He and Mike would stroke her hair, and when she turned around, they would give her the best innocent look they could muster.  Finally, the girl’s girlfriend caught them.  I cringed inside, afraid that she was going to try to start a fight, but the boys turned on the charm and soon enough they were all best friends.  Unfortunately, someone who shall remain nameless spilled (deliberately poured) a drink on someone else, so she departed in haste, but the rest of us stayed until the wee hours, having a grand old time.  The next day, we were all the worse for wear but those of us who were there will still swear that it was one of the legendary nights out “when four-bys were fun.”

I wish I had a picture of that night with Dave and Mike in it, but I can’t find one.  Maybe it’s for the best that there’s no evidence of the shenanigans.”

~ Kerry, NYPD

To the Families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa

Today, I’m tired. I’m tired because as I’m mourning my brother who was assassinated in the line of duty on March 1st in Euless, Texas, I have to think about you. I think about the moment you received a knock on the door from uniformed men and women with somber faces. I think about how you walk up to the door thinking that this isn’t good. But, believing at the same time that it can’t really be bad either, because you love your officer. It just can’t be that bad. And, then it is.

It is, in fact, the worst.

I think about the moment you receive a phone call or a visit from a panicked loved one and you hear the words uttered that: “He was shot. He’s gone.” And all you can think is: “No, it can’t be. It’s not him. It can’t be him. I love him. He can’t be gone. He’s a good person. He can’t be gone.”

But, he is.

But, he can’t be.

But, he is.

He is.

I think about how you will rush to the hospital, or make your way to the funeral home. You will see the rest of your family and those closest to you, and you will sit in silence, confused, because this is all wrong. Then, something odd will happen or someone will say something funny and you smile or laugh, because this is all so unreal. And, you will think how can I possibly laugh right now. My husband is dead. Or, my dad is dead. Or, my brother is dead.

In the next moment, you will look around and wonder why you’re there, in that moment, in that situation. And you’ll remember that:

“He was killed.”

And you’ll think that it can’t be. He was a good person. This only happens to “other people.”

But, it happened. And, you’re really at the funeral home, making decisions about caskets and flowers.

I think about how your family in Blue will take your hand, squeeze your shoulder, bring you a plate of food that you don’t want to touch. They will glance in your direction, feeling helpless that they can’t do anything to ease your pain, except perhaps, get you to drink a cup of water and eat a bite of anything at all. You will feel ill. Your stomach will hurt. Your chest will feel so heavy. You will feel like you can’t breathe.

As you sit there, making decisions on music and viewings, you will think:

“How can a person bear this much pain.”

“How am I still breathing? How am I still walking?”

Some moments you will think: “I wish the world would just open up and take me away.”

I think about how you will go to sleep at night, exhausted, and when you wake up, for just a moment things will be ok, and then the knowledge of what has happened will wash over you and you will experience the deepest, darkest sadness you will ever know. And this will happen morning after morning, at least for a little while.

I’m no expert at grieving, but I’m a few months ahead of where you are. There is nothing that anyone will say or do that will feel right, because right now everything is just wrong. People will try to comfort you, tell you there is a reason for everything, tell you that an angel went home or that something good will come from all this.

Know that they mean well, but they can’t possibly understand what it means to have someone you love torn from you in the most violent way possible.

After Dave was killed I received a letter from a father, who lost his own son too soon. He wrote: “Time does not heal the pain.  The pain you feel at the loss will never diminish but every day you will get stronger in how you deal and cope with that pain.” This was the most helpful thing anyone has said to me.

These words will bring you little comfort in these horrible days ahead, but know that we are thinking of you. We understand. We’re here. You will, somehow, make it.

You have to make it, because your man in blue needs you too.

~ Meret H., sister of David S. Hofer, EOW 3/1/2016

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A Story: The Open Door

“I do not know what to say to start with.  I do not have anything profound to say.  It still hurts.  Dave’s locker is still right across from mine, a St. Michael sticker permanently affixed to it, never to be opened again.  I have Dave’s name on my bracelet, the mourning band with your badge is still attached to my gear.  I am sorry.  As one of the senior guys that was on his shift, I am sorry Dave came to our little town for a better life only to be taken from us.  It has been hard sitting down and telling this story because only few days after this happened Dave would be gone. 

 Now that I have brought everyone down, I hope I can liven it up and they have a laugh at this, because I still do.  Just know some “colorful” language will be edited…

We had been having a rash of daytime apartment burglaries and I was patrolling one of the complexes on my end of town.  While patrolling I located a patio sliding glass door opened up about a foot.  Not sure what I had yet, I asked for an additional unit, and Dave was dispatched (it should be noted that he was already enroute to back me up when he heard me check out). 

Upon Dave’s arrival we went to have a closer look at the door.  This patio was probably about 12 feet long by about 4 foot wide with probably a 4 foot railing across it.  The ground surrounding it was standing water from recent heavy rains. 

 While we did not see any signs of burglary, we did see one of the biggest pit bulls in existence lounging on the chair looking at us with a “what are you idiots looking at” look on its face. 

Dave: “Bro, we gotta search it.”
Me:  “Uh no, you see the size of that dog.”
Dave:  “Policy bro, policy says we search.”
Me:  “You go first then tough guy, I’ll follow you.”
Dave:  “Bro, you’re all former SWAT and Army, and an FTO, I need to learn from you. You go first!”
Me:  “As the senior officer on scene I am making the call we not entering this apartment.”
Dave:  “Bro, policy says we search. I don’t want to get fired!”

It was clear that the apartment had not been burglarized.  We could see laptops and TVs inside, and nothing appeared thrown around.  Dave was also clearly using “bro” intentionally in all his sentences.  All professionalism went out the window as we jokingly bantered back and forth about Policy and the size of the pit bull like kids on a playground, all the while this huge dog is eye balling us, before I finally said “I’ll call Sarge.” 

 So we walk back to the squads and I call Sarge who AGREED with me (Dave shot me the bird as I wrote “told you so punk” on my notepad) to not enter the apartment, but we needed to try and shut the door. 

So, we then went back to the apartment to shut the patio door, only to find that thepit bull was now GONE. 

Me:  “Where the hell that dog go?!”
Dave: <cackling> “Bro, he’s hiding, waiting to eat your face when you go shut that door.”
Me:  “You shut it… you’re a foot taller than me and can get over that railing better…and I’m a better shot than you.”
Dave:  <still cackling>  “it’s your call bro. You found it.”

So we came up with the plan: as I hopped over, he would watch and cover me against the still hidden pit bull.  The apartment patio is several feet below the level of the parking lot, and I got in position to hop the fence. I turn around and look back at Dave who now has his phone out.

Me:  “What the <blank> you doing?!”
Dave:  “Bro, when that dog jumps out at you, you’re either gonna end up in the mud or lose an arm, both of which will be awesome on youtube… but I promise I’ll only let him get one arm.”
Me:  “You mother…”
Dave:  <laughing almost uncontrollably>

Well, I made it over the railing without getting eaten, and got the door shut without seeing the dog again.  I am sure if anyone was watching they were like “what the hell is wrong with those cops.”

I know I could never do justice to the mannerisms and voice of Dave. I just hope those that knew him can insert him and know just how funny this was. 

Was I actually ever concerned about that dog?  Absolutely not! As much as we were joking around, I never once doubted Dave would be there if that dog had showed up. 

Miss you BRO, see you on the other side…”

~ P.B., Euless PD

A Story: End of Watch

“There was one day where I was sitting alone with Dave. He found this the perfect time  to question me about my worries in regards to making the move to Texas. “What’s your biggest fear about moving here?” I told him that in the NYPD Mike always had a partner and although Euless seems like a safe area, I just didn’t love the idea of him being alone. Dave instantly laughed. He said: “You think Mike will ever be alone? He’s MY partner, kiddddd! I always have his back. If that’s your biggest fear you’re fine. I’d die for him and that’s the truth.”

Fast forward a few months, Mike and Dave constantly reminded us of the movie End of Watch. “This movie is so completely like us” they’d say. Both Marta and I never laughed and said: “That’s not funny because one gets killed in the end.”

If you’ve never seen the End of Watch, I’d suggest keeping it that way. It is heartbreaking, but a true depiction of what police officers go through. In the movie, tragically, the officers were ambushed, leaving one officer to watch his partner get killed, which now more than ever hits home.

In the end, during David’s final moments, he was with Mike, Ed, and Mo and Dave did exactly what he had promised me he would do. He saved Mike’s life and there are no words to describe how thankful I am for what he did. He truly honored their brotherhood and will be honored as a hero forever in my eyes.

~ Stefanie O., Friend

A Story: On Missing The Last Train Out

“I met Dave when we both worked together in the beginning of our careers, our lockers were close to each other’s in the same row at work.  And like many of the friendships he started, ours began with him encouraging me to go out with him after our tour.  I was sometimes reluctant because I knew that if I went with him I’d end up missing my late train from Penn station and would have to end up having to “wait” until the early morning train.  And “waiting” just means staying out longer. Anyone who relies on the LIRR knows what that means.  But when I gave in I never regretted it (accept for maybe the slight hang-over) and when I agreed he usually responded with a,“yeah kiiiiiiiiiiid!”

He took me to his spot, introduced me to all his friends, and made sure I was always taken care of.  He was always having a good time and just wanted me to have a good time too.  It was that simple.  He wanted to share this happiness with anyone and everyone, he didn’t keep it to himself.  Texas was no different.  I remember when he first called me to tell me about his plans.  My phone rang and when I answered, his first words were literally, “North Richland Hills”, which is one of the City’s close to Euless.  At that time, when you took the entrance exam for Euless PD, that exam made you eligible for several other departments that hire off of the same list, North Richland Hills included.  He was so pumped to pursue his career down there, and so excited to build that dream life (and especially to have his own pool), that how he got there and where he worked was just, at first, a minor technicality.  Eventually he called me back to tell me it was Euless he really wanted, but I still laugh at that first call.  And right away he was encouraging me to take the test too. He hadn’t even been there yet! He was just so sure about it.

He told me about everything, step-by-step on the whole process, and we talked often once he left.  I had been down to visit and saw everything first hand just as he described. Himself, Marta and the rest of his Texas family have built a great new home in a short period of time.

As has already been described time and time again, Dave was a great, loyal, honest, dependable and trustworthy friend.  He was my go-to for advice and he was always good for a laugh.  Especially when he used his German accent, which was probably my favorite thing.”

~ Sean F., former NYPD

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