Just 40, Vicky Armel was a wife, a mother and a detective in the Criminal Investigations Section of the Sully District Police Station. Sadly, on Monday she also became something else: The first officer slain in the line of duty in the 66-year history of the Fairfax County Police Department.
RESPONDING to a report of a carjacking, she'd just come outside the station, into the back parking lot, when she and other officers there were ambushed by a teen-ager armed to the hilt with five handguns, an AK-47 assault weapon and a long-barreled, high-powered rifle. Police say he fired more than 70 rounds.
Armel and the shooter exchanged gunfire, but she was shot multiple times and was later pronounced dead at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Her death has profoundly affected not only her immediate family, but the law-enforcement community and area residents, as well.
"The hole in the community's heart is as big as the void in the police department's," said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully). "When my alarm went off [Tuesday] morning, I sat up in bed and thought, 'Two children are waking up without a mom today.' What a difference 24 hours makes."
Wednesday morning, in response to a huge amount of calls and e-mails from residents asking how they could help, Capt. Susan Culin, commander of the Sully District Station, asked people to "tie blue ribbons on your antennas in a show of support for our officers." And a candlelight vigil honoring the police was held Wednesday night near the station.
At the request of Armel's family, a trust fund has been established for their children. Donations may be made by electronic payroll deductions, cash or personal check. Send checks payable to Armel Family Trust Fund, c/o Fairfax County Federal Credit Union, 4201 Members Way,
Fairfax, VA 22030.
"Thank you in advance for your kindness," said Pfc. Mary Hulse of the Sully District Station. "The outpouring of sympathy from the community to the station has touched all of us here in ways I can’t even describe."
Armel was a county sheriff's deputy who'd transferred to the police department in 1996, serving at the Fair Oaks, Reston and Sully district stations. She lived in Culpeper with her husband Tyler and their son and daughter, ages 4 and 6, and was admired both personally and professionally.
"She was a loving mother, a genuine person, a cheerful colleague and a ferocious detective," said Capt. Bill Gulsby, former Sully District Station commander. "She'll be sorely missed by the police department and the communities."
Police identified the gunman as Michael Kennedy, 18, of 6200 Prince Way in Centreville's London Towne West community. He was killed in Monday's shootout with the police, but not before he also seriously wounded another Sully District officer, 53-year-old Michael Garbarino.
SHOT MORE than five times, the officer is listed in critical, but stable, condition at the hospital and, according to Frey, seems to be making some progress. "Somehow, miraculously, none of the bullets hit vital organs," he said. "[Tuesday], I heard he'd opened his eyes. And [doctors] tested him and don't believe there's spinal-cord damage."
Kennedy also injured a 28-year-old male officer from the Mount Vernon District Station. This officer was treated for a flesh wound to his arm and released. In addition, a citizen received lacerations.
Friends described Kennedy as increasingly weird and delusional, and he faced charges in Montgomery County for allegedly carjacking a vehicle there, April 18, after checking himself in and then escaping from the Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health Center — a mental-health facility in Rockville — that same day.
Then came an attempted carjacking and a successful one, Monday in Centreville, which set in motion the tragic events to follow. In both incidents, at 3:37 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., respectively, police received information that a heavily armed man wearing camouflage clothing and a black mask was the perpetrator. At 3:52 p.m., gunfire was reported at the Sully District Station.
Police say Kennedy drove the minivan he'd just carjacked into the back parking lot of the station, got out and began firing on officers. Ironically, Garbarino, the first one struck, planned to go on vacation this week. He was just parking his cruiser and, said Frey, he was unarmed when the shooting began.
"The shooter pulled up no more than 40-50 feet from him," said Frey. "He didn't have a chance. There were 19 bullet holes in the vehicle. But he was able to get on his radio and place an open call, telling the other officers where the shooter was and not to come out of the building. Police said it was one of the most chilling calls they've ever heard — and that's what also brought other officers to the location."
Then the assailant opened fire on Armel — an expert marksman. However, say police, Kennedy's arsenal of weapons prevailed. Three other officers also exchanged gunfire with Kennedy before he was killed.
FREY SAID one officer who'd just arrived for his shift in his personal vehicle had his service revolver in his car and, when Kennedy opened fire on him, "The officer dove into his car, got his revolver and engaged the shooter — who had a whole cache of ammunition."
Meanwhile, a slew of other police officers descended upon the station, including two who'd just been at the firing range on Stonecroft Boulevard, about two miles away.
"They heard [Garbarino's] call, came past the Westfields Marriott, left their car and walked along the path beside Flatlick Branch Stream, next to the parking lot," said Frey. "At the back part of the lot, these two officers engaged the shooter and took him down."
However, he said, although Kennedy was shot several times, he "got back up, two or three times" before falling and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Kennedy's parents and sister went into seclusion and, for awhile, police were unable to find them. But they later issued a comment through a spokesman, offering their condolences to Armel's family and saying they were "trying to comprehend" what happened.
"How did a kid so obviously troubled not get help?" wondered Frey on Tuesday. "That's certainly a frustration, because we do have the programs."
Frey, whose office is in the Sully District police station, said two of his staff members, Virginia Eller and Kathy Buckley, and two building-maintenance workers, Lupe and Maria, were also inside the building when the shooting began.
He was planning to attend a kickoff to bring the 2013 World Police and Fire Olympics to Fairfax County, so he'd left the office early. But around 4 p.m., he said, "I got an emergency alert on my BlackBerry saying, 'Shooting at Sully District Station.'"
Frey drove as close to the station as he could get and got a quick briefing from police. Knowing civilians were also inside the building, police made sure they were safe and out of harm's way. But things were dicey at first for Maria's husband Lupe who, said Frey, was at the dumpster when the gunman pulled into the parking lot.
"[Kennedy] parked beside the dumpster in the travel way and Lupe hid behind the dumpster," said Frey. "He eventually got into the building safely. But until then, Maria was beside herself because Lupe was where the shooting was."
Following the siege, police placed large, orange barriers around the station and cordoned off the parking lots. "It's a crime scene, and they don't want any of the evidence disturbed until they can scour the scene," explained Frey. He said various groups' meetings normally held in the building were all cancelled for this week.
At press time, Armel's funeral arrangements were still being finalized. Police expected to have some information, later this week. Meanwhile, knowing Sully's officers are still in shock and need time to grieve, officers from other district stations have volunteered to work overtime and on their days off to take on their duties.
CENTREVILLE'S Donna Ainger, a police citizen aide at the Sully District Station, described Armel as a classy, attractive and vivacious woman who was lots of fun to be around and to know. She felt privileged to know both Armel and her husband and said they were devoted to their children.
Often, said Ainger, Armel was busy "picking up the kids or getting them to an event or activity." But when it came to police work, she said, Armel was "all business, extremely diligent and very aggressive. And she was ready to put it all on the line, as she ultimately did, to further the cause."
Throughout Monday's whole, terrible ordeal, said Frey, Armel and the other officers were "incredibly heroic. There were truly some great acts of compassion and bravery. All the officers involved took risks to bring the situation to an end."
He said the community's deep sorrow for the police also shows how residents here have embraced community policing. "It makes the officers human, and not just a badge sitting behind a tinted windshield. They interact with people and the community gets to know them."
That's why the tragedy has affected everyone so much, said Frey. "The community is torn up," he said. "The station's been flooded with calls and food. It's been so touching to see the community's response. Vicky loved what she was doing, and she loved people — and we have an awful lot of officers like her."
So when it comes right down to it, he said, "People here do support and back the police, and I know the officers at the station appreciate it. We really are one community, not just the police and the residents, and we're all grieving. But we'll get through this together."