Some 400 people came to the Sully District Police Station, Tuesday afternoon, for a special ceremony in remembrance of Det. Vicky Armel and MPO Mike Garbarino.
It was the one-year anniversary of the darkest day in Fairfax Police Department history — the day when a deranged teen armed with deadly weapons stormed the back parking lot of that police station and took two lives.
AND THE CEREMONY for law-enforcement personnel, the families of the slain officers — Armel, 40, and Garbarino, 53 — and their invited guests started an hour before last year's 3:40 p.m. tragedy began.
"I think most of us think about Mark and Vicky every, single day," said Capt. Susan Culin, commander of the Sully District Station, before the event. "But our energy is focused on staying in touch with their families, honoring significant dates in their lives and making sure they still feel part of our police family."
The police department honor guard presented the colors, and Pfc. Kirk Coligan sang the national anthem. Then the Rev. Mark Jenkins of Mountain View Community Church — Armel's church — gave the invocation.
After that, county police Chief David Rohrer, Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) and Culin addressed the crowd. Frey's office is inside that station and, after Garbarino and Armel were killed last year, police parked a cruiser in front of the station and members of the community adorned it with flowers in remembrance of them.
Because of that, said Frey, "There's not a day that goes by when I don't pull into the station and 'see' the cruiser covered with flowers and Mike's and Vicky's pictures." But he's also trying to remember better things about May 8, 2006.
"There was so much that was good about that day in the way the officers and community responded," he said. "So you remember what incredible people Mike and Vicky were, but you try to put the sadness and the tragedy out of your mind."
After the three speakers, Pfc. Genevieve Kirk sang "Hero," and then the rest of the ceremony continued in the station's back parking lot — where the shootings occurred. There, the police honor guard presented wreaths that were each placed beside the special memorials erected in Armel's and Garbarino's parking spaces.
EVERYONE RENDERED honors, saluting the fallen officers in unison. Then came a moment of silence, followed by a flyover by the county police helicopter. Pfc. Rob Deer played "Going Home" on the bagpipes, and then the Rev. Gregory Safchuck of St. Mark Orthodox Church — Garbarino's church — gave the benediction concluding the ceremony.
The memorials are actually brick planters built primarily by MPO Jack Tuller of the Sully District Station and, said Culin, "They're in the officers' parking spaces because that's where they were when they were shot." She said the 5-foot square memorials will "keep people from parking there in the future and will honor [Armel's and Garbarino's] memories."
Heritage Landscape Services of Chantilly planted them with greenery, a dwarf Chinese maple tree and flowers and will maintain them. And Kline Memorials of Manassas created 18x18-inch, black-granite, memorial boulders inside the planters.
Each granite slab is inscribed and rubbings can even be made of them. One reads: "In loving memory of Master Police Officer Michael E. Garbarino for his heroic actions on May 8, 2006." A replica of his badge, No. 1417, is below those words; and below the badge is "End of watch, May 17, 2006" (the day he died).
Also there are the words, "Keep Up the Fight," because, said Culin, "That's what he said as he was being helped into the Medevac helicopter. He was still thinking of his fellow officers."
Armel's inscription is as follows: "In loving memory of Detective Vicky O. Armel for her heroic actions on May 8, 2006." There's a replica of her badge, No. 2806, plus the words "End of watch, May 8, 2006" and "Keep the faith." Culin said that phrase is from Armel's personal testimony about finding religion and God.
In addition, three fountains — representing the police department, Garbarino and Armel — were installed in front of the police station last fall. And last week, Merrifield Garden Center added greenery and flowers and will maintain them.
A brick planter is directly in front of the fountains and, also last week, police attached a sign to it. It was paid for by donors who wish to remain anonymous, and replicas of Armel's and Garbarino's badges flank the sign.
The inscription on the sign reads: "In honor of the Fairfax County Police Department, with loving memories of Detective Vicky O. Armel and Master Police Officer Michael E. Garbarino." Underneath, in larger letters, are the words, "Forever Heroes."
"THE COMMUNITY has been so involved with us since this happened — and so supportive of everything we tried to do — that we wanted to have a place where the community could also come and pay its respects," explained Culin. "It's attractive and peaceful, with the running water, and a nice place to come and reflect."
"I can't speak highly enough of the community," she added. "People will see us somewhere and stop us and say, 'Thank you for what you do,' and it's very nice."
Now, a year after the tragedy, said Culin, "Morale is back up [at the station] and people are remembering the good times." And the officers know that the best way they can honor the memories of their fallen comrades is by "going out and doing good work and emulating the types of officers that Mike and Vicky were."
Donations to the trust funds established for their families — each left a spouse and two children — are still being accepted. Checks, payable to either Armel Family Trust Fund or Garbarino Family Trust Fund may be sent to those names, c/o Fairfax County Federal Credit Union, 4201 Members Way, Fairfax, VA 22030.