Vicky Armel served the people of western Fairfax County as a dedicated police detective, first at the Fair Oaks District Station and, most recently, at Chantilly's Sully District Station. So when she was tragically shot and killed Monday afternoon by a teen-age gunman, the whole community was plunged into mourning.
AND THROUGHOUT the day Tuesday, people of all ages and from all walks of life came to the Sully District Station on Stonecroft Road to pay their respects.
A police cruiser draped in black was parked outside the now heavily barricaded building. And those who knew Armel, as well as total strangers simply wanting to express their sorrow, placed colorful bouquets of spring flowers on and around the cruiser and left heartfelt notes of sympathy.
One of those was Maryellen Raines of Cabell's Mill. Employed at the nearby NRO in Westfields, she "just wanted to do something. The police do so much for us. I cried [Monday after hearing] police officers were injured and killed, trying to protect us and help us. And I cried this morning when I drove by. It's horrible — sick people in this world."
Patrol Officer Chris Dotson with the GMU police laid a bouquet by the cruiser, and the card attached read, "Our deepest sympathies to your department. God bless all of you. From your fellow officers at George Mason Police."
Said Dotson: "We work with Fairfax officers on a regular basis, and we feel the loss the same as they do."
Sabrina Wheaton of Chantilly's Waverly Crossing community, said she and four other local women knew Armel, a 40-year-old mother of two, from when the detective worked at the Fair Oaks station, a couple years ago.
"She used to go to Bagel Buddies in Fair Lakes to get coffee, as a police officer, and we'd be sitting at a table," said Wheaton. "And she'd sit and talk to us about her kids and tell us what they were doing. Sometimes, she'd joke and say, 'You know, I'm going to call in sick this morning and just hang out with you.' She was a mom who loved her kids like we did."
So when Wheaton and the others heard about Armel's death, she said, "We thought, 'No, it can't be her,' but it was. I'm just heartbroken. And knowing her, she had so much compassion that I'd bet she'd say, 'I feel sorry for the 18-year-old and his family.' She was just a nice, kind, human being who loved her job and her family. You never think [something like this] happens in your community; you can't make sense of something so tragic."
JAMES ORTTE, a bail agent in Prince William County, also knew the slain officer. "She's a good detective and a good person," he said. "I saw her often in Prince William when she came to interview people."
As he laid a bouquet on the ground, he knelt by the cruiser and said a prayer for Armel's family. And in his card, he wrote, "To protect and to serve, but this you do not deserve."
Students from Westfield High, about a mile away, also came to the station. Special-education students, bus drivers and attendants left bouquets. And immediately after school Tuesday, another group of students draped the orange barrier in front of the station with a bright-yellow banner saying, "Westfield High School supports its police dept."
Gate Post Estates' Liz MacDonald said her husband Scott and Armel graduated from Fairfax High together in 1983. "So we signed the flowers from the class," she said. "And the class is planning a donation to a law-enforcement memorial or one in her honor."
Noting how police serve the community every day, she called Armel's death tragic. "Here she was, just doing her job. You never know what's going to happen in your community. And the assailant lived across the street from my community."
Also paying her respects was another woman shaken by the tragedy. She declined to give her name, but had tears in her eyes as she said, "My husband's a deputy sheriff in Fairfax County. It could have been him."
Brian Placon, 22, of Centreville's Newgate Forest community, also brought flowers and said Armel was a close friend of his mother's. "My mom's an ex-police officer, and they used to live next door to each other in Manassas," he said. "My mom is devastated."
From time to time, Sully police came outside to add florists' deliveries to the cruiser or straighten the cellophane-wrapped bouquets on the grass. One of them, Officer N.I. Butt, said the mood inside the station was pretty somber. "Obviously, we're in mourning," he said. "We're all very sad."
Meanwhile, people working at nearby businesses came over on their lunch hours. "It's a shame," said Janice Vaughn, employed at Rolls Royce's corporate headquarters on Conference Center Drive. "Everybody just feels horrible about it."
ALSO THERE were Stu Damon, Westfields Marriot general manager, and Joe Danza, director of operations. Damon said the Sully police have been "leaders in community outreach since they came to this area, and we just want to show our support in any way we can."
Ann Royal of Oak Hill stopped her car right on Stonecroft Boulevard, with the motor running, and walked to the cruiser with a bouquet. "My son's a policeman in Herndon and he knew [Armel]. They're all pretty upset there, and I just wanted to do something." Choking back tears, she said, "I'm just sick about this. I can't believe it."
Rosa Sheta, of Centreville's Belle Pond Farms community, was also drawn to the station on Tuesday. "It's just senseless what happened," she said. "Yesterday at 3:45 p.m., I was dropping my son A.J. for soccer practice at Westfield High and, coming back, I saw the police. Ten minutes later, I turned on TV and there it was. It's incredible. I've been in the area 19 years, and it's a good community. Something like this has never happened before."