Leaning On the Police Family

June 11, 2024
The CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund shared the story of his own grief at the Annual Candlelight Vigil.

During his opening remarks at the 36th Annual Candlelight Vigil held on the National Mall on May 13, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund CEO Bill Alexander shared a deeply personal story with the thousands in attendance to honor the sacrifice of 282 officers who died in the line of duty.

This article appeared in the May/June issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

“As a retired police officer myself and having attended candlelight vigils in prior years following the deaths of 16 of my peers over a 25-year career, I contemplated what I might want to hear were I seated here tonight for the first time. I thought about telling some anecdotal stories about the men I knew whose names now adorn our sacred walls, but ultimately, I decided to tell a more personal story,” he said. “Almost exactly two years ago, my wife and I were on what we thought was a once-in-a-lifetime vacation overseas. We started by exploring London right at the tail end of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee and then embarked on a cruise ship for ports across Europe. A few days into that journey, my wife received a phone call from our teenage son who we had left at home with his sister and grandmother. Within seconds of her answering, I could see the stark terror reflected in my wife’s eyes and after hearing the briefest fragments, which included the words ‘police’ and ‘paramedics’ I knew something catastrophic had happened. That something catastrophic was the death of our 15-year-old daughter, Eve. The next 24 hours was a hellish nightmare, trying desperately to make last minute travel plans in one country after another where we didn’t speak the language and our cell phones would not connect to local networks.”

Alexander said that when he and his wife landed back in the U.S., they were shattered and broken. What they soon learned was that their police family stepped in to fill the void of their absence. He had recently retired from the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland before joining the NLEOMF. “The department I retired from months before, which had no obligation to me, and did not service the area in which I lived, had deployed personnel and resources to help my family. The chief of police in the jurisdiction where I lived, who knew little more than my name, stood for hours in our living room to help guide and console the members of our family who arrived many hours before we did.

“In one of our few successful calls home, officers overheard the anguished cries of my wife that our daughter was afraid of the dark and she could not be left alone. Only after arriving home did we become aware that uniformed men and women, whose names we did not know, volunteered to stand watch over our daughter at the funeral home until we could join her there.”

While Alexander’s child was not an officer killed in the line of duty, he told the families at the vigil his story mirrors some parts of theirs and that each of them could easily fill in the blanks of how the men and women in uniform stepped up to help during their darkest hours. “I tell you my story not to engender sympathy from this honored gathering. In fact, I beg you to strip from your minds the story, the specifics of my loss. I have no desire in any way to distract from the honor and recognition which each of your loved ones so rightly deserve this evening,” he continued. “Instead, I hope you might use my story as a starting point and focus on the parts of our story which most overlap, which is that our extended police family is critical to the healing process. I can say with quiet confidence, I would not have remained sane, much less be able to stand here to tell this story, without the ongoing support of the very same extended police family which has wrapped each of you in their warm embrace and walked with each of you every step of the journey.”

He walked through the paces of the surviving families, from attending police funerals and gun salutes, to the sounds of echo TAPS at local memorials and remembrances, to a trip to Washington, D.C., to see their loved ones’ names inscribed on the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, and to the Candlelight Vigil where those names are read aloud to be memorialized forever.

“I cannot promise that you will one day be healed, as I am far from that state myself. My greatest wish is that by virtue of hearing my story, each of you might feel a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of hope wherever you are on that healing journey tonight. And with the assistance of this police family, to which you will be forever connected, that there will be a day in which you can process the overwhelming grief and deep despair and perhaps find some peace. That peace may not be possible when contemplating the tragic cause of your loved one’s death, but I believe such peace may be possible if you focus instead on the selfless and courageous way in which your loved ones chose to live their lives in search of that very same peace, particularly following the deaths of too many officers I knew personally.”

Alexander, who was speaking at his first Candlelight Vigil as CEO of the NLEOMF, told the attendees that his organization will always be there for them. “No words of mine will be able to take away the staggering pain I know that each of you feel. Beyond perhaps attempting to help each of you find your own glimmer of hope, what I can do tonight is offer you a promise. A promise not just on behalf of those who work for and with the Memorial Fund, not just on behalf of the Memorial Fund board members and the national police organizations which they represent. Not just on behalf of every man and every woman who ever has and ever will wear a law enforcement uniform. A promise I choose to believe on behalf of every citizen who is lucky enough to call this great country home. A great promise that the stories of your loved ones’ courage and sacrifice now woven into the fabric of the broader American story will be forever told. Our promise that the names of your loved ones, our heroes, will never be forgotten.”

About the Author

Paul Peluso | Editor

Paul Peluso is the Managing Editor of OFFICER Magazine and has been with the Officer Media Group since 2006. He began as an Associate Editor, writing and editing content for Officer.com. Previously, Paul worked as a reporter for several newspapers in the suburbs of Baltimore, MD.

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