Photo credit: Photo courtesy National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
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.
I recently spoke with Craig Floyd at the IACP convention in Boston. Craig is the Chairman and Executive Director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). He related to me that the National Law Enforcement Museum is scheduled to open in 2009. Visualize, if you can, a 90,000 square foot museum with a "hands-on" classroom that will show the public just what it takes to be a cop. Some of the exhibits will include a driving simulator, judgmental use of force simulator, a typical locker room, roll call room, crime scene, and much more. There is also a theater containing a 40 foot panoramic screen that will mesmerize and enchant visitors with stories about cops and their careers.
Laurie Baty, Director of Museum Programs, is excited about the challenge that she faces in building and outfitting this project. She told me at the IACP that the museum will be unlike anything we have ever seen, and that it will be the premiere source of information on law enforcement in the United States. Both she and Craig are traveling around the country raising awareness and funds to successfully complete the ambitious undertaking. Inasmuch as the museum is funded entirely by private funds, they seek both corporate partners and individual donors. If you want to help ensure that our "Heroes Live Forever," you can make an on-line contribution as an individual, or if you are in the private sector, become a corporate partner as Advanced Interactive Systems just did by making a donation valued at over one million dollars.
Groundbreaking for the museum is scheduled for 2007; the price tag for this glorious vision is $80 million. I know that none of us became cops thinking that we would become rich. Indeed, many of us live from paycheck to paycheck and work second jobs to support our families. However, all of us need to sacrifice and donate whatever we can so that this dream comes to fruition. If you need any motivation to dig deep, I suggest you visit the Memorial. Take a walk down the "pathways of remembrance" and view the thousands of names of our fallen guardians; I guarantee it will send chills through your body. Do your part to honor our fallen angels who now walk their beats on the streets of heaven, finally out of harm's way.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled..."