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2009 Candlelight Vigil

Remarks on Behalf of the Nation's Survivors

By Jennifer Thacker, National President, Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), May 13, 2009

Thank you, Craig, Lynn, and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund for inviting me to be a part of the twenty first Annual Candlelight Vigil.

It is truly a privilege for me to be here with you this evening; distinguished guests, law enforcement from across the United States, and in particular with you, the law enforcement survivors.

The family, friends and colleagues of our nation's peacekeepers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in the line of duty.

It's an honor to be with you, who know the people behind these names carved on this wall. You, who call them son or daughter, mom or dad, brother or sister, husband or wife, and friend. I am honored to be here with you this evening.

When I spoke here in October for the Annual Wreathlaying, I remarked that the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial is unique and unlike most memorials in our nation; because, sadly, it will never be completed. As the war against crime in our nation has never known a time of peace, law enforcement officers have been serving their communities and about every 2 and a half days, an officer sacrifices his or her life in that service.

Since the dedication of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 1991, new names have been added each year.

And we know, already, with events like those in Odessa, Texas, Oakland, California and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, new names will be added again next year. The work is ongoing.

And while, I know, law enforcement officers do not serve their country, state, or community anticipating their name will go on a wall, they do serve bravely and honorably, running toward danger while the rest of us run away. They serve to be that thin blue line to separate good from evil, calm from chaos. So when one falls in the line of duty, it is our obligation to assure their service will always remembered. We must also assure their survivors are adequately supported and also never forgotten.

Not long ago, I read, "When the wind blows hard, the roots grow deep." Those words, I believe, describe the law enforcement family here well.

I know the winds of heartache, trauma, and grief have blown through your lives with the tragic death of your law enforcement officer. I also look around tonight and I see the ROOTS of support to the left, to the right, in front and back of us. Deep roots, hoping to sustain us.

May 13, 1999 was the first time I visited this memorial wall, the first time I saw the name of my husband, Kentucky Alcohol Beverage Control Agent Brandon Thacker, etched in a memorial wall.

It had been a little over a year since my husband was shot and killed in the line of duty, leaving me widowed at the age of 26 and alone to raise our one year old daughter. And I felt very alone. Alone in my grief and pain; alone in my hopelessness and fear of the future.

When I first found Brandon's name on this wall, I felt my sorrow intensify, because it was another confirmation that this bad dream, these strong winds of heartbreak were real. And Calling it heartbreak seems so slight, as every other part of my body felt broken, too. As I looked at the name, I remember thinking, "Do people realize that this is not just a name? That is my husband, my confidant, the father of my child. It's the name of a brother, a son, a friend. Initially I could not even approach the wall and I just sat down and cried. I soon felt an arm wrap around my shoulders, an arm that pulled me in and held me while I cried.

Roots growing deep.

Those roots, that stranger, the officer behind that arm patiently listened and supported me as I approached the place where Brandon's name is engraved. He stayed close while I traced every letter of his name with my finger and until I returned back to sit with my family for the Candlelight Vigil. The following morning at the National Police Survivors Conference, a man named Mark Brown, from Arizona walked up to me and hugged me. I didn't even recognize him from the night before, but I soon figured out that he was that supporting arm, those roots. I learned that he was a surviving co-worker and our friendship began. Mark would later serve on the National Board of Concerns of Police Survivors as Mountain Region Trustee and he understood the law enforcement family and that when the wind blows hard the roots grow deep.

Since that week back in 1999, I continue to find those deep roots of support, caring, and understanding, at every turn and I continue to feel the support and sustenance of those roots still today. If you look around you now, I hope you'll begin to sense what I did so long ago, that, in fact, when the wind blows hard, the roots grow deep. And know these roots don't stop here, this is just the beginning. This Friday, you'll feel the deep roots again, during the National Peace Officers Memorial Service. Roots of support from our Nation's elected leaders all the way down to fellow law enforcement survivors.

And the deep roots will continue, during the National Police Survivors Conferences tomorrow and Saturday. Fellow survivors, who have sat where you are now, will offer unique support, hope, and understanding to help you along your grief walk. Supportive Roots through Concerns of Police Survivors. I refuse to stand here and tell you that someday you'll be over it, that you'll ever find "closure" or that this memorial week will provide you with the magic remedy to wipe away your pain. Because, I know it's never over for us. But I can assure you that from this evening all the way through the picnic in the park on Saturday, support, and deep roots, will be available to you at every turn. And when you return to your home, those deep roots will be available to you still, if you choose to accept the hands of support from C.O.P.S.

Today, I watched my daughter, Katherine, with other children of fallen officers; I'm captivated to see how she supports others. I also see her laughing and growing, being a typical 12 year old, but yes, she still has to deal with the tragedy of the death of her father. Thanks to the opportunities she has had at C.O.P.S. Kids and C.O.P.S. Kids Camp, she knows her dad died in honor and in service and she is determined to be a LIVING MEMORIAL of and for her dad. I can only imagine Brandon is smiling down with pride as she reaches out with compassion to another hurting child. Children growing deep roots.

I look at my in-laws, Brandon's mom and dad, and hear them speak of the friendships they've made at C.O.P.S. Parent's Retreat, the phone conversations they have had, and the support they have received and given to other mom's and dads who are coping with the devastation of a child's death. Learning to be a LIVING MEMORIAL of Brandon, I can only imagine how pleased he must be to know they have learned to use their pain to ease others pain. Turning their desperation into determination; Being a part of those deep roots when the strong wind blows in the lives of others.

When the wind blows hard, the roots grow deep.

The National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial displays those deep roots by assuring this monument will forever bear the names of our Nation's fallen peacekeepers and hosting a tremendous tribute with the Candlelight Vigil each year on May 13th.

The Fraternal Order of Police and it's auxiliary provides those deep roots, pledging every year that on National Peace Officers Memorial Day, a marvelous memorial service will be held at our Nation's capitol to honor those who have made the supreme sacrifice.

And Concerns of Police Survivors, C.O.P.S., provides those deep roots by guaranteeing us that the LIVING MEMORIALS, family, friends and affected co-workers, will always have opportunities to find support and assistance through their grief walk in order to discover how to rebuild their shattered lives and to turn their tragedy into triumph.

Remembering, Honoring, and Supporting.

Deep Roots.

I pray for your comfort through this week and always, and I pray that the deep roots continue to sustain you through your grief walk.

Thank you and may God bless and enrich your lives ALWAYS!