Seventeen police officers — two, posthumously — received Valor Awards last week for their actions and incredible bravery during the May 8, 2006 ambush at the Sully District Station.
IT WAS the most horrific day in the 66-year history of the Fairfax County Police Department — a day when a disturbed teen armed to the hilt took the lives of Det. Vicky Armel, 40, and MPO Mike Garbarino, 53.
Both left spouses and children, devastated colleagues and a grieving community. And last Thursday, May 1, at an event hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce at the McLean Hilton, both Armel and Garbarino received Gold Medals of Valor. Accepting them were Garbarino's wife, Suzanne, and Armel's husband, Tyler.
Also receiving a gold medal was Officer Richard Lehr who, while sitting inside his own vehicle in the back parking lot, spotted a heavily armed man in a ski mask walking slowly through the lot. In plain clothes, with just 16 rounds in his service weapon and with no initial knowledge of what was happening, he engaged the shooter.
Lehr also ran into the station, reloaded and returned to the fight. And he helped two other officers rescue the injured Garbarino, carry him to a waiting cruiser and go with him to the hospital.
The nightmare began around 3:40 p.m. when the shooter, Michael Kennedy, carjacked a van and drove into the police station's rear lot. Unarmed, Garbarino was tending to things inside his cruiser there before leaving on vacation. Standing a few yards away, Kennedy fired more than 20 rounds at Garbarino with an AK-47-type rifle.
He was struck five times; yet though gravely wounded and in pain, Garbarino alerted other officers to the danger via his cruiser's radio. He provided suspect information, directed responding officers and told the police helicopter where to land.
HE ALSO prayed to God and asked his fellow officers for help, saying, "I'm not going to die here." He held on for nine more days, but succumbed to his injuries May 17. The Police Department narrative nominating him for the valor award states, "His actions will live on forever in the hearts, minds and souls of the officers and police department he loved. His truly unselfish final acts demonstrated his faith, care for fellow officers and his extreme dedication and professionalism."
Armel went outside to respond to the carjacking and, when she reached her cruiser, Kennedy arrived and began shooting at Garbarino. She made her presence known to Kennedy to draw fire away from Garbarino.
She and Kennedy exchanged gunfire, and a bullet from his 30-06 rifle pierced her ballistic vest and struck her in the chest. She made it back inside her cruiser, but was struck again in the legs. And even though mortally wounded, she still shot four more rounds, trying to stop the assailant.
In her medal-nominating narrative, police wrote, "Det. Armel showed remarkable bravery, courage and willingness to help her fellow officers at great risk to her life. She made the ultimate sacrifice and undoubtedly saved others as a result. Armel died as a warrior. Her final acts were a demonstration of her life and faith."
MPO Mark Dale and PFC Jeffrey Andrea came from other areas in response to the carjacking and soon learned Garbarino had been shot. Although from separate units, they quickly devised a plan to sneak up on Kennedy. He saw where they were when they began firing at him through the station's back fence, and they were the ones who killed him.
MPO WILLIAM HORN also came from elsewhere after hearing Garbarino on the radio. Fully aware of the risk, he was determined to go in and rescue him. Stopping along Stonecroft Boulevard, he asked other officers to help him, and PFCs James Urie and Ivan Roeske volunteered.
Horn devised the attack plan, driving a cruiser from the station's front to back parking lots, with Roeske and Urie walking alongside, using the open front doors for cover. They then left to look for a possible second shooter and Horn tried to find Garbarino in the lot.
A trained medic, Horn pulled his cruiser in front of Garbarino's to provide cover for him. Then he grabbed his medic bag and gave Garbarino first aid. Meanwhile, Lehr and 2nd Lt. Boyd Thompson joined Horn and helped him lift Garbarino into the back seat of Horn's cruiser.
Horn then drove from the station and later provided more medical help for Garbarino while awaiting a helicopter to the hospital.
Earlier, Thompson bypassed a roadblock and was the first officer to arrive in the front lot after word of the shooting. He then ran through the station and out into the back lot — aware of a possible second gunman, but focused on rescuing Garbarino. He, too, rendered first aid to the fallen officer. For their efforts, Horn, Dale, Andrea and Thompson all received silver medals.
Lt. Steven Thompson, 2nd Lt. Craig Copeland, Det. Steven Carroll and PFC Daniel Horton were working somewhere else, but responded to the Sully District Station upon hearing that a shooter was in the lot. MPO Jeffrey Rockenbaugh heard the radio traffic and came from the Fair Oaks Station, in case he was needed. MPO Robert Patterson, at the Police Academy, did likewise.
When Thompson, Copeland, Carroll, Horton and Rockenbaugh heard Horn advise over the radio that he had Garbarino in his cruiser, they looked for a second shooter. They saw legs protruding from the driver's-side door of a vehicle in the back lot. Not knowing it was Det. Armel, they decided to make a rescue attempt and Patterson joined them.
Horton discovered an injured woman stretched across the front seat, and only then did he realized that person was a police officer. At that point, it was still not known that anyone besides Garbarino had been shot. Horton called out that an officer was down and moved to give her aid.
Carroll and Patterson provided a human shield between Horton and the parking lot while Horton removed Armel from her cruiser. Then he and Carroll carried her to the side gate while Patterson and Rockenbaugh provided cover.
BUT THE GATE wouldn't budge, so Carroll and Horton slid Armel under the gate, and Copeland and others picked her up and placed her into their vehicle. Carroll then gave her rescue breaths enroute to the helicopter landing zone.
Stopped by traffic at a roadblock, PFC John Turner made his way to the station on foot, telling a citizen whose vehicle had been disabled by gunfire to take cover. He moved toward the sound of the shots to try to locate and engage the suspect.
Sully District Station dispatcher Lisa Smith heard Garbarino on the radio say he'd been shot and other officers report gunfire at the station. Things got confusing as other officers tried to convey information, too, so Smith took control of her channel and directed officers to stop talking so she could coordinate landing zones for the injured officers. She also spoke calmly to Garbarino and told him to hang in there, help was coming.
Everyone who helped that day acted heroically and without regard for their personal safety, and the community will long remember and be forever in their debt. And Armel and Garbarino will live on in the hearts of those who knew and loved them.