The healing after last week's shooting death of police Det. Vicky Armel at the Sully District Station was still a long way off. But the tiniest bit of optimism had crept into the local community as days passed and the other officer wounded in the ambush, MPO Michael Garbarino, clung to life.
TRAGICALLY, though, he took a turn for the worse Tuesday afternoon in Inova Fairfax Hospital and died early Wednesday morning at 2:45 a.m., with his family, friends and fellow officers by his side.
"The men and women of the police department are in mourning again today over the loss of another beloved member," said Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer, at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the Massey Building in Fairfax. "I know my officers are hurting, but they have my unconditional support as we go forward in this ordeal together."
He said Garbarino's wife, two children and parents — and all the police families — have not just the support of the police department, but also its love. Police and residents throughout the county are still grieving after Armel's death, and now, said Rohrer, "Our family has again suffered a tremendous loss."
Garbarino, 53, was the first police officer shot during the May 8 ambush when Michael Kennedy, 18, of Centreville, drove into the station's back parking lot in a van he'd just hijacked and opened fire on the unsuspecting officers. He was killed in the resulting shootout, but not before he'd taken the life of Armel, 40, a wife and mother of two young children, and critically injured Garbarino, a 23-year police veteran.
Armed with five handguns, an AK-47 assault weapon and a high-powered rifle, Kennedy fired more than 70 rounds — and five of them struck Garbarino. Even so, the wounded officer radioed for help and warned other officers to approach Kennedy from the front of the building so they wouldn't walk right into harm's way.
Unfortunately, though, Garbarino was sitting in his car, unarmed, as the shooting began. He'd just finished his shift and was getting a few things from his vehicle before leaving on vacation. His quick actions, however, undoubtedly saved other lives that day. Indeed, said Rohrer, "I'm proud of his courage and commitment to aid and protect his fellow officers."
After Garbarino underwent several hours of surgery, Rohrer said police were "heartened" when he made it through and continued to survive. And he said he'll be eternally grateful that, at least, Garbarino and his family had the past eight days together. "He was a fighter at heart and was fighting bravely to recover," said Rohrer. "And we find hope that he was doing what he loved to do."
Saying that Garbarino embodied all the best qualities of a police officer and a person, Rohrer noted that they served together on a squad when Garbarino first joined the force in 1983 and that his "enthusiasm, professionalism and passion" for the job were just as strong today as they were then.
HE SAID Armel's loss extracted a huge, emotional toll on the community, and he asked that people now keep Garbarino's family in their hearts and prayers, as well. "He was a dedicated police officer, a loving father, a son of proud parents and a brother who served his community with distinction for 23 years," said Rohrer. "He will be missed, but he and his family are embedded in our hearts, and I ask that they be respected and remembered — they have earned that."
Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly said that once again, Fairfax County is "a community in deep pain and deep grief. There's a special bond between the police and the community so, as our police brothers and sisters suffer this grief, so does the community. But the process of healing will also begin and we will move forward."
Eyes moist, Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) added his personal condolences. He said Garbarino lived in the Centreville area, served as the school resource officer (SRO) at Centreville High and was well-known in the local area.
"Mike was a part of the community," said Frey. "He worked Friday-night football games and community fairs," so he got to be a familiar face to many. Describing Garbarino as an easygoing person who laughed easily, Frey said people throughout the county were rallying around him, in hopes he'd recover. "We thought he was going to make it," he said. "This has just been a tremendous blow."
Frey said a vigil, probably Thursday or Friday night, will be held for Garbarino so the community and police "can come together to support each other in this difficult time. It's a sad time for the Sully community."
The shooting was Monday, May 8, and afterward, the Sully District Station in Chantilly was barricaded and closed to the public. Grief counselors were brought in to help the officers deal with their feelings about the tragedy, and people from far and wide covered a police cruiser in front of the station with flowers, notes and teddy bears as a memorial to Armel.
Officers were given leave, and police from other stations — especially Fair Oaks — took over their duties. Armel's funeral was Saturday and, afterward, the barriers were removed. Slowly, things at the Sully District Station inched toward normalcy, and the station opened for business once again, Monday, May 15, at 5:30 a.m.
On Wednesday, May 17, officers who were on duty last week when Armel was killed and Garbarino was shot were returning again to work. Then came word of Garbarino's death, and the station, police department and entire community were again plunged into mourning.
POLICE AND firefighters once again draped the police station in black bunting and a cruiser was placed outside, along Stonecroft Road — this time to create a memorial for Garbarino — the Sully District Station's second fatality in nine days.
Frey planned to attend roll call there, Wednesday, at 5:30 a.m., to welcome back the officers and thank them for all they do. Then Lt. J.D. Call, the assistant station commander, phoned him at home at 3:30 a.m., with news of Garbarino's death.
"This'll be tough," said Frey. "People had some closure and hope — everybody was focusing on Mike. Their hope was tied up in him — and it's been crushed."
The mood Wednesday morning at the station was one of devastation and utter despair, as officers cried openly and hugged each other for comfort — almost in disbelief that, just four days after they'd buried Armel, another one of their own was gone.
"When we said goodbye to Vicky, there was nothing that could be done," said Frey. "But every day that went by [and Garbarino was still with us], we had more and more hope."