The tragic deaths of Det. Vicky Armel and MPO Mike Garbarino of the Sully District Police Station left a huge hole in the hearts of their families, colleagues and members of the community they served.
BUT THEY will never be forgotten by those who knew and loved them. And now, in honor and remembrance, specific commemorative items are being made available to both law-enforcement personnel and area residents. Proceeds will go to the trust funds established for their children.
"While our initial intent was to offer them for public safety and county employees, the community was also affected by [what happened]," said Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax County Police Union. "So this is a way they, too, could show their appreciation and respect for the officers."
Armel and Garbarino died following a May 8 ambush in the station's back parking lot by a mentally unstable teen-ager armed with enough weapons to fire 70 rounds at police before they could bring him down. Armel, 40, left a husband and two children, 5 and 7; Garbarino, 53, is survived by a wife and two daughters, 10 and 14.
Armel died soon after she was shot, but Garbarino — who managed to warn other officers about the shooter after taking five bullets, himself — held on until May 17 before succumbing to his injuries.
Since then, friends, relatives, neighbors and members of their police families have closed ranks around their families to offer whatever help they could. And, said Thielen, "Both families express their deep appreciation for all the support of the community. They have tremendous gratitude for what everybody's doing."
HE SAID the police union is providing day-to-day support to the families and "being there for them, if and when we're needed. It's a new role for us; we've never had to do this before."
More than 800 of the Police Department's approximately 1,350 members belong to the union. "We're chartered through the International Union of Police Associations," said Thielen. "We advocate for pay, benefits and working conditions for all Fairfax County police employees."
"Mike and one other officer founded our union in 1990," he continued. "And Mike served as vice president and did some recruiting for it, so it's kind of ironic. But the police union believes that no widow or widower of a police officer should have any financial concerns; they have enough to deal with."
Several fund-raisers have been held for their children's trust funds, and businesses and individuals have made donations. A Fairfax Fallen Officers Poker Run motorcycle ride, this Saturday, Aug. 19, beginning and ending at the Sully District Station, should also bring in more dollars.
Memorial challenge coins will soon be available. "Fairfax County police have a coin with our police cruiser on it," said Thielen. "And we're getting ready to do ones with Mike's and Vicky's likenesses on them, and something else appropriate on the other side, such as the American flag or a police badge. The design process is still in progress."
But thanks to former police dispatcher JoAnn Rohmann, available for purchase now by the general public are commemorative bumper stickers, T-shirts and magnets. She was a dispatcher from 1978-81 and 1986-87, and Armel and Garbarino were Fairfax County's first police officers ever slain in the line of duty.
"The first officer killed [not murdered] in the line of duty, Karen Bassford, was on my squad, so I know how it feels," said Rohmann. In July 1977, Bassford was killed in a car crash while responding to a burglary.
"I WAS A dispatcher out of the McLean District Station then, she was a patrol officer and we were both on C squad," said Rohmann. "And anytime there's a line-of-duty death, it's family."
So — with the county's and Police Department's approval — after Armel was slain, Rohmann created a blue-and-white bumper sticker in her honor saying, "Thank a police officer." She had them printed up, but the day UPS delivered them to her door was the same morning Garbarino died. So she redid them to say, "In honor of Det. Vicky Armel, MPO Mike Garbarino."
Then the officers requested magnets for their lockers saying the same thing, so Rohmann added them, too, after getting the go-ahead from Thielen. The union is funding their production, and he's in charge of the fund-raising. Rohmann then thought about creating special T-shirts.
"The firefighters do T-shirts for fallen firefighters, so I wanted to do something similar," she said. "I talked to some of the guys I knew to see if they'd be interested in having them. Then I told Marshall and he said, 'Let's do it.'"
The shirts are Navy blue, and on the left chest is a 4x6-inch replica of a badge with the word "valor" and a black, mourning band across it. In an arch over the badge are the words, "In honor and loving memory."
Underneath the badge are the officers' names and badge numbers: 2806, Det. Vicky Armel, and 1417, MPO Mike Garbarino. The back of the shirt reads: "In honor of Det. Vicky Armel, MPO Mike Garbarino, Fairfax County Police, Sully District, May 8, 2006."
T-shirts in adult sizes from small through extra large cost $15; sizes 2X and 3X are $17. Magnets are $5; prices don't include shipping. Orders and checks payable to Fairfax Coalition of Police, with "Armel/Garbarino Trust" written on the memo line, may be sent to: JoAnn Rohmann, P.O. Box 29, Great Falls, VA 22066. To obtain an order form for groups, e-mail her at FairfaxPDFund@aol.com.
"I ORDERED 1,300 shirts and, as soon as I got them in, I got orders for more," said Rohmann. "They're also going to Fairfax County firefighters, other counties' police departments, the State Police, etc. It's just been amazing."
She's also gone through 2,000 bumper stickers and 1,000 magnets, but they're being replenished. And this Saturday, Aug. 19, she'll be in the parking lot of the Sully District Station for the Poker Run motorcycle ride, beginning at 8:30 a.m., for anyone wishing to see or purchase the commemorative items. Suggested donation for the bumper stickers is $1 apiece.
"Police are never thanked for what they do, so this would be a way of letting them know the community supports them," said Rohmann. "It's a recognition that somebody cares about and appreciates them."