A year ago, grieving residents and public-safety personnel gathered outside the Sully District Police Station for candlelight vigils in memory of Det. Vicky Armel and MPO Mike Garbarino.
ARMEL DIED May 8, 2006, and Garbarino, nine days later, following a horrific attack on the station by a mentally disturbed teen. Tuesday night, police, firefighters and the community gathered again to honor these officers with another candlelight vigil on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.
"We, the community, wanted to come together to express publicly our emotional bond with the Sully District police, and the families involved, and reflect over the events of the past year," said Sully Station II Neighborhood Watch Coordinator Leslie Jenuleson, who organized the event with her husband Dan. "Through candles, flowers and music, we are here to honor and support those who defend us every day."
Addressing the public-safety personnel present, she said, "In the challenging roles of law enforcement, you are both the protectors who fight crime and the guardians who respond with passion and guidance to help the individual. We are here to thank our officers and rescue personnel for their sacrifice and service."
Then, after a moment of silence for Garbarino and Armel, Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) spoke poignantly of his recollections of May 8, 2006 and his appreciation for the community and the police.
"The police put their lives on the line every day," he said. "It is a dangerous job to protect and serve and take care of us. We have tremendous people who do that, and we take it for granted, every day. But we do appreciate it and, from the bottom of my heart, thank you all."
Referring to the April 16 Virginia Tech shootings that claimed the lives of two Westfield High grads, Frey said, "The community has been knocked for a loop twice — just when it seemed as if we were getting better. But the strength and resiliency of the community has been a source of comfort for the officers and Mike's and Vicky's families. And the strength and dignity of the Armel and Garbarino families gave strength to us, too."
FREY SAID people may choose what to remember about May 8, 2006, but the negatives shouldn't be the only focus. "I will always remember that — even while the shooter was in the back and the police were defending themselves and the building — they spread out to defend the community," he said. "I'll remember the courage of everyone involved who put themselves at risk to make sure everyone was protected that day."
He said he'll remember how the AmeriSuites hotel opened its doors to become a police command center and the Applebee's restaurant provided food for the officers. And he noted that, the day after the shooting, one of the first signs of support to come to the Sully District Police Station was the banner saying "We love you," signed by hundreds of students at nearby Westfield High.
"The Tuesday night after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, Centreville Presbyterian Church held a prayer service for the victims," said Frey. "And to see the officers comforting the students there brought it full circle. That's what community bonding is all about — and that's what I'll remember."
And forming the bonds, he said, are individuals, civic associations, PTAs, student groups, business groups and all the other elements that make up the fabric of a community. He noted everyone who brought food to the police station, stopped by to offer encouraging words or contributed to the Armel/Garbarino trust funds. Said Frey: "The outpouring of love and compassion by the community is something we can all be proud of."
He said the police/community bond has never been stronger and will continue to grow. "We want to thank the Lord for blessing us with Mike and Vicky," said Frey. "And although it was too short a time, we were extremely blessed to have them. I pray the Lord will continue to bless the Sully police station and the community."
Fairfax County Police Chief Dave Rohrer thanked the station commander, Capt. Susan Culin, for her dynamic leadership in the wake of the tragedy, and Frey, as well.
"WE ARE NOT here to memorialize Mike's and Vicky's deaths, but to commemorate, honor and remember them for how they served this community and how they lived as people," said Rohrer. He praised the way the police responded May 8 and said how proud he was of them during the past year.
"We're trained, we go on [crime] scenes and calls and expect danger at times," he said. "You don't expect it in your own house — in the rear lot of a police station."
Now, though, said Rohrer, it's part of the "bonding and psyche of this police department, and I'm proud of those who've come to work every day and seen those reminders. They've handled it well; they wanted to go back to work and protect and serve the community."
Being protectors, police officers often shield their emotions, said Rohrer. So to help them heal, he asked them to share their feelings about the shooting with their fellow officers. "And I thank the community," said the chief. "The candlelight vigils were the start of that healing. You saw police and the community mingling together, the pats on the back and the handshakes."
Bringing a message of hope and recovery, Tuesday night, Rohrer said, "We have grieved and felt a profound sense of loss, the past year. But it's OK that we continue to move ahead. We will never forget Mike and Vicky. I'm so proud of the resolve, resiliency and professionalism of my officers, and the memories of the support we received will never fade."
He recalled coming out of the church after Garbarino's funeral and "seeing people lined up along Route 7 — law-enforcement and members of the community, shoulder-to-shoulder, stacked up, living the procession route for miles." And for Armel, said Rohrer, the funeral procession went out past Warrenton and was a mix of Scout troops, youth-sports teams and families standing in fields. Especially memorable, he said, was "a family on a tractor, holding a flag, with their hands on their hearts, as we went by. Thank you all for your heartfelt and heartwarming support."
CULIN ALSO expressed pride in her officers and community and said Armel and Garbarino "possessed enormous courage and concern for their fellow officers. We will never forget their laughter, smiles, dedication as police officers and the care they showed, and we'll carry them in our hearts forever. I'm proud of this department and know we'll continue to work together to support our extended, police family."
Culin thanked everyone who contributed toward the fountain memorial, saying, "We wanted a memorial in front of the building because it acknowledges the sense of loss the community felt and gives the public a place to mourn Mike and Vicky." She also thanked Dan and Leslie Jenuleson for their "support and care. Words cannot express our appreciation for all you do."
Vigil attendees included Hana Brilliant and Chemeika Wood of the Fair Oaks Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. Brilliant said she came to pay her respects, and Wood came "to honor the memory of our fallen sisters and brothers in uniform."
Linda and Richard Thompson drove from Springfield because they have two sons in the county police department and, said Linda, "Because of that, it hits home."
Centre Ridge Elementary students McKenna Roland and Kristen Lundquist had their own reasons for attending. McKenna said Garbarino was her neighbor and "he was close to me since I was a baby." Added Kristen: "Now my dad's in the police academy, and I'll just talk to Sue Garbarino [his widow] when I'm worried about him."