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Family of Slain Michigan Officer Works to Find Peace

No. 55

The O'Rourke family sees it often: on a clock, the final cost of a tank of gas or points scored in a game.

Each time is a reminder of West Bloomfield Police Officer Patrick O'Rourke, badge No. 55.

The 39-year-old husband and father of four was shot and killed by a barricaded gunman Sept. 9.

Seeing the number can make family members smile and feel he's sending them a message. Other times, it's painful -- like earlier this month on the 55th day of school for his daughters.

"That was bothering my 5-year-old," said Amy O'Rourke, Patrick's widow. "So we made it fun. ... I said let's think about 55 things we love about daddy."

The first thing out of daughter Andrea's mouth: "He made really good pancakes." Others on the list: He read good stories, he made good chili, he sang like Elvis and he played guitar.

It's been 2 1/2 months since O'Rourke's death shattered his family and permanently impacted the department where he was a 12-year veteran. As the holidays approach, they're trying to adjust to a new reality without him -- one that includes forgiving his killer.

Ricky Coley, the 50-year-old who police said shot through his bedroom door and hit O'Rourke, had been ordered out of the house as part of a divorce settlement and faced financial troubles. He kept police at bay during a 20-hour standoff that ended after Coley committed suicide.

"I'm sad that he got to that point in his life where he felt so lost," Amy O'Rourke said.

She went to mass the day after she found out her husband was killed and said she felt Patrick, whom she married in 1998, sitting with her. She had a strong urge to say Patrick forgives Coley, and she does, too.

"Forgiven," Amy O'Rourke said. "It's over."

Days of heartache

Coming to terms with Patrick's death is more difficult.

Amy, 37, is hit the hardest at bedtime and while attending church. Religion is an important part of her family's lives, and one she shared with Patrick for 15 years.

"We never didn't go together," she said.

Amy called Patrick's death an injury to the mind during an interview Wednesday at her Fenton home.

"Your mind thinks he's supposed to come walking through the door," Amy said. "And you got to tell it, 'Nope.' "

The couple met while working at McDonald's when she was a senior in high school. They started dating after he wrote, sang and recorded a song on a cassette tape that expressed his feelings for her.

They had four children: daughters Eileen, 10, Mary, 8, and Andrea, 5, and son Stephen, 11 months.

Her daughters have begun talking to a therapist about how they're feeling.

"She said they're actually doing really well," Amy said.

During a recent session, one of the girls talked about the feelings of lonely and proud. To describe proud, Andrea drew a picture of the police department where her dad worked. For lonely, she drew a picture of him buried at the cemetery.

"It's heartbreaking," Amy said.

She took a leave from her job as a nurse at the Hurley Medical Center in Flint and has no immediate plans to go back.

Being in the house without Patrick felt scary, so a friend gave her a 6-year-old male Irish setter the family named Rudy -- Patrick's nickname while he was working undercover.

"He just came trotting in here like he owned the place," Amy said. "And jumped right up on Pat's spot on the couch and sat there like he knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing."

Getting the news

Amy and Patrick shared their last kiss on the stairway at their home before he left for his shift.

She woke around 1:30 a.m. when the doorbell rang. At first, she thought it was her husband but soon realized it was two of his fellow officers.

"I thought a million things as they're standing there," she said. "Knowing full well there's only one reason they're standing there."

When Officer Rick Trabulsy and Sgt. Tara Kane got inside, they delivered the news.

"I'm really sorry to tell you this, but Pat was shot and killed tonight at work," Amy recalled Kane saying as she held her hand.

Amy smacked herself in the face, trying to wake up. She walked around, went to brush her teeth and looked in the mirror. There, it hit her.

"I cried while I was brushing my teeth," she said.

His parents got a call to come over but weren't told why.

"I knew," said Dan O'Rourke, 68, of Hartland. "It was like a knife through the heart."

He said that night was the worst of his life. Every day since has been the second worst.

"It's sort of like Nagasaki after the bomb fell," he said of how his life has changed in the last few months. He spends a lot of time alone, sheds tears often, and said what he's gone through is almost too much to bear.

"I fall apart as soon as I think of Pat," he said. "I miss him so much."

At the hospital

Amy went to see Patrick at the hospital. He looked like himself, she said, with a small hole in his neck where he'd been hit.

She sat with him for a few hours, holding his hand and rubbing his forearm like she had always done.

"I just kept saying, 'Really, this is really happening?' " she said.

At home, Amy called their girls into her room, and they asked why so many family members had gathered at the house.

"Well girls, something horrible, terrible, awful happened last night," she said. "Daddy was shot and killed last night. He's dead."

As they cried, she held one daughter, her mother held another and her mother-in-law held the third.

"It was horrible," Amy said.

Support, even from strangers, has come from across the country in different forms.

A 2013 Chrysler Town and Country minivan was donated by Parkway Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Clinton Township. The West Bloomfield Police Department received hundreds of condolence letters from law enforcement departments.

People dropped off food, called, made quilts, sent hundreds of cards and left messages on a Facebook page called Officer Patrick O'Rourke. One child even sent her $7, and strangers who see Amy at the store stop to hug her.

"The hug is very therapeutic," she said. "I love getting them."

Each day, a member of the Police Department checks in on the family -- usually by calling or texting -- including Trabulsy, a deacon in the Catholic church who shares the family's deep faith.

Patrick O'Rourke chose him be the liaison with his family on a form officers are required to fill out should anything happen.

"We all miss him," Trabulsy said. "For me, it's like losing my little brother."

Under review

The Oakland County Sheriff's Office, which routinely handles officer-involved shootings, and West Bloomfield police are still reviewing what happened that night.

Six other officers responded to the call with O'Rourke, West Bloomfield Lt. Tim Diamond said.

"Certainly the guys that were with him on that run that night he was killed, they were affected more," he said. "It's one thing to have a good friend pass away, but it's another thing to actually watch them die."

They received counseling, and have returned to work, he said.

The O'Rourke family planted three trees in their rural home's backyard in honor of Patrick.

His death has resulted in good in the lives of others, his family said. They've heard that people are taking time to hug loved ones more often and longer, they appreciate the little things in life more, and some are even going on date nights to strengthen their marriages.

"Pat would be smiling about that, he really would," Dan O'Rourke said.

Copyright 2012 - Detroit Free Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service