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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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: A NYC Coincidence

I’ve been having a very hard day today. I can feel what kind of day it will be when I first wake up. If my heart feels heavy (I wonder how that feeling even comes about), I will probably have a very, very sad day.

I woke up with my heart feeling heavy. An appointment I had got cancelled, so I kind of tried to bumble my way through my morning, heading to the coffee shop to do some reading. In the end, I just ended up sitting there, but I give myself points for effort. When I got home, I received a message from Bryan R. about something that JUST happened to him. He agreed to let me share with you all.

“How about this for a little coincidence: currently working in uniform and standing outside of a school.  Two teenage girls and their guardian approached me saying they are on a spiritual mission and are going around praying for people.  I asked where they are from. They answered Texas.  I asked if they heard of Euless, and they said they live in a town 30 minutes from there (I forgot which one specifically).  One teenager said we would like to pray with/for me because they saw me and thought of “the wonderful police officer who died a few months ago.”  One girl looked at my tattoo and asked to see it fully, and I raised my arm, and the other teen said, “Wait, that’s the name of the police officer?”  I gave a short summary of Dave’s adventure from here to Texas.  “We will pray for his family and police officers everywhere” were their parting words.”

Thank you, ladies. Your message has reached us.

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A Story: Taking the Jump

Dave seemed to have a knack for being memorable even through the briefest of interactions. He truly understood people and could bridge gaps like very few people I know. Here is another example.

First and foremost, I want to express how sorry I am for your loss.  Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will always be with your family, Marta, and those closest to Dave.  Though my fiancee and I didn’t know Dave very long, or very well, I still felt compelled to share a memory of him, because it truly is a testament to his generosity, his character, his love of the job and of Texas.  

My fiancee and I, both born and raised in New York, were told by friends about an opportunity to possibly work and live in Texas.  My fiancee loved the whole idea from the get-go, but being the typical Type A personality that I am, I knew that if I was even going to consider this craziness, I would need to do my research and see all of it first-hand before I made a decision.  Enter Dave.  My fiancee was given his number, and they talked back and forth for several days about the possibilities that Texas presented for us.  As the days went on, I was getting a bit skeptical about this mysterious “Dave” character. 

Eventually after many, many conversations, we decided to fly down to Texas for a few days to check out the area and see it all for ourselves.  Dave and Marta, without ever having met me at all, were more than willing to meet us and show us around. For the few days we were there, they worked around their already busy schedules to show us their favorite spots in the area.  Total Wine was one of the first places Dave told us about (because, priorities).  Babe’s Chicken Dinner House gave us a real Texas feel, and the Shops at Legacy made me see that this wasn’t exactly the rural version of Texas I had envisioned.  They showed us restaurants, shops, apartment complexes, you name it, and when they couldn’t physically be with us, they pointed us in the right direction.  Dave even took my fiancee on a ride along so that he could see first hand what the department was like. I was in awe of their generosity, their kindness, and of Texas. But still, I was hesitant about making a move this big.

On our last day, before we made our way to the airport, Dave took my fiancee and I to TruFire, which was yet another delicious choice.  My fiancee left the table for a moment, and without me having to say a word, Dave called me out on my hesitation.  He asked what was holding me back, and wanted to know what my biggest concern was.  I told him that this was a big risk.  I was afraid I’d miss my family too much, and that taking a jump this big would ultimately end up being a big mistake.  I held my breath a bit, because I knew how Dave felt about Texas, and his decision to move here, and considering he had spent the last few days showing us around,  I was anticipating a little irritation in his response.  I got the opposite.  Dave was considerate and honest.  He told me that he understood my concerns, that they were valid, and that ultimately and obviously it was our decision to make, but that he could guarantee if we took the jump, I wouldn’t regret it.  

Fast forward to now, May of 2016.  I’ve been living in Texas for almost a year and some of my favorite places are still ones that Dave and Marta showed me during our first visit. Our journey here has had its ups and downs, its twists and turns, and it certainly did not turn out like we had originally planned, but what more can be expected of life?  Although my fiancee and I are making our way back to New York next month, I couldn’t be happier with our decision to have moved here.  It is an experience that I am truly grateful for and one I will never forget.

As I reflect back on our time here, I can’t help but think back to our first trip to Texas.  Dave’s love for this place and the possibilities it presented inspired me to push outside of my comfort zone and take a leap of faith, something I don’t often do.  Although we didn’t speak much, and didn’t know each other well, I will always be grateful to have met him.  Ultimately, he was right. I took the jump, and I don’t regret it. 

– Dana F.

A Tribute: The NYPD Memorial 5K

Yesterday, my parents and I and over 2500 others participated in the NYPD Memorial Run to honor the legacy of of the 882 NYPD officers who have fallen in the line of duty. 882 souls who have given their lives to protect those of the citizens of NYC.

It was a very moving experience. Beginning with an invocation by an NYPD chaplain, that was both poignant and humorous (delivered with a great New York accent!), the singing of the national anthem by a female officer, and the mournful playing of the bagpipes during a moment of silence for our fallen heroes.

Most striking to me was seeing all the personalized race bibs, many with names of the recently fallen, and many more graced with names of officers whose legacy endures even though they have left us long time past. “My brother” is what my bib said. Others wore bibs that marked their own relationship to an officer: my son, my husband, my partner, my father, my cousin, my friend, my hero, … The list goes on. Let us honor those who have left us, but let us also remember those who are left behind, for enduring their unthinkable loss. The officers, the families, the friends and supporters all deserve our deepest gratitude.

I also want to mention that we understand that Dave is not an “official” fallen NYPD officer as he had retired and joined another department. Yet, there were close to 100 people there to honor him. Thank you to each one of you. There are so many people who are making a tremendous effort to make sure his sacrifice is honored in NYC as well. I want to take this opportunity to thank Bryan R. who has been at the forefront of these efforts. Thank you, Bryan, for all you’ve done and all you continue to do for Dave. And, thank you, to everyone who is helping with this in the background. We may not know each of you, but know that we’re grateful.

In Memory: 05/19/16

“Dear police department
Hello. I realy like your work that you do I think a police is a very importent Job. I know you try your very best. I want to be a police. I have some questions for you. How do you be a police. Next I want to know what do you trane.”

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A Thought: On Openness

I signed up to receive notifications when someone comments on my post “My Brother Was Killed Because He Wore A Uniform” on one of the major law enforcement Facebook pages. I can honestly say that most feedback has been supportive and honors my brother and other police officers. Some feedback is especially meaningful. Then, occasionally, something like this appears:

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I know this is a person who doesn’t actually care about these issues in a deep way. I doubt they even read my post. For whatever reasons, they have made up their mind that all cops are power-hungry and racist [yes, those words have been used in response to my article] and decided that, for those reasons, the lives of people in Blue don’t matter. I will spare you some of the worst comments I’ve seen, but I think you can imagine what they might be.

I don’t care who you are or what your background is. Life ALWAYS matters. It’s painful to know that people are so blinded by their narrow views and hate, that they simply dismiss this fundamental mandate. Life matters. My brother’s life mattered. Even this hateful person’s life matters.

But, ultimately, these are not the people one can expect to reach with a message of betterment. I truly believe that people with these hateful views are a very tiny minority of our society.

What is a lot more common, however, is that many other people have narrowed their worldview so significantly, that they are only grabbing bits and pieces of information to form their perspective on what the police means. They are only grasping at the stories and details that support their already established views. They are only talking to other people who believe the same things that they do. And, unfortunately, this happens on all sides of the discussion: the community can have detrimental ways of thinking about law enforcement, and law enforcement can have detrimental ways of thinking about the communities they serve.

This is where the change needs to happen.

We need to challenge ourselves to look beyond what we think we know to integrate information and events that, maybe, are contrary to our beliefs.

We need to challenge ourselves to see the nuances of controversial issues, and in fact, to seek out information that represents the other side of the discussion.

We need to challenge ourselves to engage meaningfully and respectfully with the people who believe the opposite of what we do.

Ultimately, we need to be open to changing our minds.

A Thought: On Funerals

A few days ago, May 4th, 2016 to be exact, marked the one-year end of watch anniversary of NYPD officer Brian Moore who was violently killed while performing his duty of protecting and serving the people of New York City. We’re also about to head into Police Week, which honors the service and sacrifice of the about 140-160 officers that lose their life in the line of duty each year. Thinking about Moore’s death, and that of so many others, I couldn’t help but also remember the many, many times Dave put on his dress uniform, wrapped his shield in a mourning band, and took his place among the thousands of officers paying their respects to a fallen officer. Once he moved to Texas, Dave flew back and forth between NYC and Texas numerous times to honor his fallen brothers.

It’s devastating to know that this is the current reality of being a police officer in the United States. Attending funerals, wearing mourning bands and memorial shirts, and making donations to the families of the fallen are all part of the routine responsibilities that many police officers incorporate into their daily living. Just looking through Dave’s photos makes it plain how many officers have been taken too early, too violently.

And now, Dave is one of those fallen.

No matter who we are, no matter whether we grew up rich or poor, no matter the pigment of our skin, no matter our political leanings: We should all know that we have to do better.

For our communities.
For those brave men and women in blue who put everything on the line to keep us safe.
For our humanity.

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One funeral of too many.

A Story: Walking Besides Us

Some of the stories and anecdotes that you lovely people have sent me have been unbelievably moving, but this one just brought me to tears. It truly exemplifies the kind of person Dave was – how he always observed his world and looked out for the well-being of those around him; how he always thought of the little things that could make someone’s day a little brighter. Thank you so, so much, Cindy, for sending us this story.

I worked with David in the 9th precinct. I was his timekeeper. I wanted to give you my sincere condolences. I’m sure you know this better than anyone but he was a amazing man. I sent this same memory to Marta a few days after the services.

On May 14, 2013 I was awaken at close to midnight by multiple phone calls to tell me my fiancé was involved in a motorcycle accident and that he needed me at the hospital. When I arrived I was told he didn’t make it. It’s a day I will never forget and a pain that has yet to leave me. The reason why I’m sharing this with you is because I only chose to take a week off from work at the 9th precinct. I wanted to go back because I knew the support I had there was beyond no other and the work would keep my mind occupied.

I remember coming back to work and seeing David and the hug that he gave me that left me breathless (literally he squeezed me so tight I thought I was going to die) after he hugged me he extended his arms while still holding my shoulders and asked where I was headed. I told him I was going to buy something to eat and immediately he said I’ll drive you wherever you’d like to go. I smiled and thanked him but told him I’d rather go alone, that I could use the walk and fresh air because it had been a rough day for me and I’d been crying on and off all morning. He asked if I was sure and I said yes and thanked him.

As I walked up the street I glanced behind me to see him walking a few paces behind me. I turned to ask him where he was going and he said he was giving me my space but was taking the walk with me and wanted to make sure I was ok. He followed me to the deli and waited outside and then followed me back to the precinct. He did this without saying a word to me. All day he was poking his head into the payroll office just to check on me without saying a word. I’d just see his head peaking in from around the corner. Later on I asked him why he’d followed me to the store instead of walking with me and his response was: “I wanted to give you your space and also make sure you were safe. Besides, I had a feeling your fiancé was walking beside you and I didn’t want to intrude.” (He must’ve heard me talking to myself.) That brought instant tears to my eyes but also a comfort to my heart.

Needless to say everyday that I saw him I had a shadow and it made me laugh so hard but also helped me because every time he did it, I was at a weak/down moment and no one else noticed it but him. He had a heart of gold and will be truly missed.

The last time I spoke to David last month he congratulated me on joining the academy but tried so hard to convince me to join the academy in Euless. I promised him that I would come out to visit and he told me: “I guarantee you once you visit you’re never going to want to leave.” I was looking forward to that vacation but am grateful, thankful and blessed to be able to say that I knew him, and more importantly that he was a friend.

I don’t know what it feels like to have someone take the life of my loved one so violently but I do know what it feels like to have spoken to my fiancé and kiss him sadly for the last time and not even know it. So, I can relate to Marta’s pain although no two people mourn the same. My prayer for you and the family is that you find the strength and peace within your hearts so that you may feel the comfort and security he is still providing for you all. He’s not watching you from up above. He’s walking beside you. May you and the family be blessed now and always.

Love always,

Cindy J., NYPD

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