On May 10, the local community flocked to the Sully District Police Station for a candlelight vigil to honor slain Det. Vicky Armel. Last Thursday, May 18, police and residents returned for another such vigil, this time for MPO Michael Garbarino.
CANDLES FLICKERED, songs were sung and speeches were said. But the overriding emotion was a pervasive, all-encompassing, nearly palpable sadness. The family of yet another officer killed in the line of duty saw a cruiser covered with flowers in his honor. And they, his police brothers and sisters and members of the community he served were inconsolable.
Those who knew Garbarino spoke about what a special person he was. And a child's simple, heartfelt message, scrawled in orange marker on purple paper amidst the flowers, said what everyone there was feeling: "I wish you were OK."
Both officers died following a May 8 ambush in the station's back parking lot by an 18-year-old with enough guns and weapons to fire 70 rounds at police there before they could bring him down. Armel, 40, left a husband and two children under 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 early Wednesday morning, May 17, before succumbing to his injuries.
And just when it seemed like there couldn't possibly be anymore tears left to shed — because they were all used up, the week before — the community was once again plunged into mourning.
"We feel like we've been kicked in the teeth," said Capt. Susan Culin, the station commander. "We're all heartbroken."
Once more, the building is draped in black bunting and officers are wearing black bands across their badges. The parking lot is again barricaded, and students from the nearby high school covered the barricade with a banner reading, "In our hearts and prayers — Westfield H.S.," and filled it with hundreds of signed, handwritten messages.
Leslie and Dan Jenuleson, who head the Sully Station II Neighborhood Watch, organized both vigils, and Leslie explained why the officers' deaths affected them more than in the average community.
"The support has been overwhelming and there's been such an outpouring of love because Sully has community policing," she said. "The police are in our community all the time — at backyard cookouts and other events, so you really get to know the officers. They're a very close-knit group, and you get to know them as family."
Sarah Brodie and Genevieve Kirk came to last week's vigil because both have husbands who are officers at the Sully District Station and they came to support them, Garbarino's family and all the other officers. "They're being so brave in the face of this," said Brodie. "I know the police have gotten a lot of comfort from the support the community is showing."
Kirk said her husband's "hanging in there. It's been a rough two weeks; it'll take awhile to heal. He actually went back to work, Monday and Tuesday [May 15-16], and we found out about Mike, Wednesday morning. It was everybody's hope and prayer that he'd pull through."
Bette Morris of Annandale came because her son's with the McLean District Station's bike team and worked with Garbarino there before Garbarino transferred to Sully. "Mike mentored our son, as he did with other young officers," she said. "Mike loved his job so much that he shared that love with others. It's been so difficult for the police and their families. It's unbelievable to have to do this again."
Sully Station Officer R.L. Cash knew Garbarino "just over a year." Cash described him as an outgoing, "go-to person" who'd give you the shirt off his back. "He always looked out for everyone else first and thought of himself second — and that's what he did the day of the shooting, as well."
Cash said being at another vigil for another slain officer was surreal. "Losing one was tough; but losing two is overwhelming, at times," he said. "As a station, we've all pulled together, so it makes it easier to deal with. But it brings you back to the reality that, at any moment, this can happen. You know [the danger's] there, but this brings it up to the surface."
Dan Schmidt, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department spokesman, said the tragedy affects everyone in that department, too. "Each fire and police station have a special bond, and firefighters and police officers work closely together every day," he said. "So we deeply feel this loss, along with the Police Department. We're here tonight to pay our respects and be here for all the police officers."
Nick Graling, a 2004 Westfield High grad, said he and his friend Tyler Wilson, a Stone Middle eighth-grader, just wanted to support Garbarino's family. Said Graling: "We figured, the more people, the better."
Cpl. Steve Cobb, a police officer in Prince George's County, said he came to honor a fellow officer. "We're all a big family," he explained. "We had an officer killed last year, and I remember what a good feeling it was to see all the other departments there [for us]."
Meanwhile, a message scribbled in a notebook in a box of blue ribbons at the foot of the memorial cruiser summed up the feelings of all those attending last week's vigil: "With grateful hearts we thank Officer Garbarino and his family for making the ultimate sacrifice."