We all have memorable dates that stand out in our lives. Some mark happy events. Others come with scars.
August 24, 2001 impacted my life forever.
That was the day our lives in Whitehall, a Columbus suburb, suddenly moved in slow motion. One of our police officers was killed in the line of duty. His partner was also shot, resulting in a critical injury that caused a stroke, loss of an eye, and the end of a career that just got started.
Both were my friends.
Devastation, shock, numbness and confusion are not sufficient descriptions of a close-knit community’s emotions. We seemed to all be walking around dazed. Whenever I hear anyone demeaning police officers, or wanting to defund departments, my heart aches.
These men and women in blue train hard, taking an oath to serve and protect. Every time they walk out of their home, they never know if they will walk back through at shift’s end.
Whitehall offered citizens police academy classes which residents could attend for 10 weeks to learn how a department operates up close and personal. It is very hands-on, including ride-a-longs and shooting on the firing range.
After graduation, all have the opportunity to join the Whitehall Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association (WCPAAA). The members become viable extensions of the department, volunteering where needed.
I did that for 10 years. Serving on the local board and the National Citizens Police Academy Alumni (NCPAA) was an honor. At national conventions I taught officers from across the country how to conduct a class, as well as how to form an active alumni.
Officers Terry McDowell and Eric Brill went to a home to serve a summons. After knocking on the door, the occupant shot through the screen door.
Terry was on the ground, and the shooter stepped out to shoot him again. He then shot Eric, striking him just below his eye.
Neighbors, later deemed angel heroes, pulled Eric to safety behind a car waiting for backup and medics. Another officer on scene shot and killed a man named Bela.
The days that ensued saw great acts of kindness, love and community. All of Central Ohio came together. We members of WCPAAA were there with hugs, food, shoulders to lean on, and sometimes we just cried together.
Terry was married with an eight-year-old son and 11-month-old daughter. Both are now grown. His son has followed his footsteps into law enforcement.
Eric was engaged with a wedding planned for October. His recovery was long. He miraculously recovered, and the wedding was an event as planned. They have two teenage daughters.
Terry’s death was senseless, but not in vain. Another crime was solved. Bela’s neighbor was murdered a few months prior. After searching his home, the neighbor’s stolen guns were recovered.
A group of us, along with businesses, organized a fundraiser to benefit the families of Terry and a Columbus officer killed that year. It also benefited Eric and another Columbus officer who were injured. We called it Get Behind The Badge.
A non-profit by the same name was established. Now financial assistance is offered to all first responders and families of police and fire throughout Ohio.
Often tragedies bring unexpected kindnesses and answers. I try to thank first responders when possible. They DO appreciate it.
Every August 24, I remember and reflect. I pray and am always grateful to the brave ones who would lay down their life for me.
I never want to have to attend an officer’s funeral again.
Remembering Badge 32. Bless them all!
Dianne Bonecutter Garrett is a Wilmington native and a former print and broadcast journalist.