Our first inkling that something was terribly wrong came from a citizen and was broadcast city-wide over the police radio, "Emergency! Emergency! Two policemen have been shot at 81st & Morgan." Thus, an entire night shift of Chicago police officers learned firsthand that two of their colleagues were victims of a savage attack. When assist units arrived on the scene, everyone's worst fears were realized--Officers William P. Fahey and his partner, Richard J. O'Brien, lay mortally wounded on the cold, hard streets of the "Windy City." Officer O'Brien would die from his wounds shortly after arriving at the hospital; Officer Fahey died the following morning without ever regaining consciousness. Ironically, the two veteran cops had hours earlier attended the funeral of a fellow cop, Officer James Doyle. He had been murdered by a robbery suspect he was attempting to arrest.
The two murderers, the Wilson brothers, were no strangers to Chicago's finest. They had just committed a burglary when they were stopped by the two heroic officers. As the officers began to flesh out what they had, one of the subjects disarmed Officer Fahey and murdered him. He then shot Officer O'Brien. The two cons were eventually apprehended and sentenced to death. In a surprising twist of events, their death sentences were commuted to life in prison by then-Illinois Governor George Ryan. Years later, in a classic case of "what goes around, comes around," Ryan became a fellow convict of the two reprehensible brothers, having been convicted in federal court of racketeering and fraud.
Officer Billy Fahey was the brother of my sister-in-law, Casey Wills. He was a devoted husband to his wife Pat, and a loving father to Erin, Jamie, and Krista. Billy was a good cop, but more than that, he was a decent, God-fearing human being. He is sorely missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and community. His funeral, although beautifully orchestrated and executed by the city, was one of the more painful experiences that I can remember. As I stood there in uniform that day, the raw emotion and pain was evident and palpable. There was not one person in attendance that day that did not feel abject sorrow over the loss of such a beautiful child of God.
However, his spirit, and those of all officers killed in the line of duty, live on through the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (NLEOM) located in our nation's capital. President George H. Bush dedicated the Memorial in 1991; it contains the names of more than 17,500 heroes dating back to 1792. These hallowed grounds are a testament to all those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and will never be forgotten.
If you have never experienced a line-of-duty death, it is hard to appreciate the profound impact that a memorial has on loved ones. The incident itself transforms your life in ways that sometimes you find difficult to discuss with another human being. It is akin to looking at a beautiful quilt that has the middle square missing. The quilt still performs the job of keeping one warm, but its beauty has been diminished and will never be as it once was. After the initial trauma and shock subside, and the ceremonies and burial are complete, the well-wishers begin to dwindle over time, until finally you are all alone with your pain and mental torment.
There is an old adage that states "time heals all wounds." That may be true for some things, but when a loved one is inexplicably taken away, the soul never fully recovers. We do not choose to ever forget our heroes. On the contrary, we want to ensure that as a nation we honor those men and women that sacrificed their lives in service to their communities. What the NLEOM does for the families of slain officers is allow them to maintain a link with their departed loved ones. For a spouse or child to be able to view and actually place their hand on the name etched in that sacrosanct wall, is a spiritual gift that will be there for a lifetime. It is a tangible sign that somehow, some way, their loved one is still present in their life.