Dennis Allred was elated when his only daughter was born. The two formed a tight bond and little Gina would grow up to be daddy's little girl.
A deputy for the Kitsap County (Wash.) Sheriff's Department, Allred sat down with his daughter one evening for a heart-to-heart talk. He handed her one of his department patches and told her that he wanted her to have something to remember him by if anything should happen to him. At the time, she didn't know what he meant, but she cried anyway.
A few months later, Dep. Allred was just minutes shy of finishing his evening shift when he stopped to help what appeared to be a stranded motorist with a vehicle in tow.
Unbeknownst to Allred, the car was stolen and one of its passengers was a man who had for years threatened to take the life of a police officer. Allred, 30, died instantly in the ambush.
At the age of eight, Gina had never known anyone else who had died. "When my dad was killed, I just assumed that everybody in my life that I cared for was going to die [suddenly]," she recalls. "I was just holding my breath waiting for the other shoe to drop." Overcoming this fear of abandonment was the first of many battles she would wage in the wake of her father's death.
Loneliness set in when she found she had no one to talk to about her feelings. "My family grew up in a time when you didn't talk about stuff. If you did show emotion, you were weak. Everybody grieves differently, but children look to adults to find out how to grieve and there was nothing." Without an emotional outlet, Gina set aside her grief and moved forward with her life.
With assistance from the Vantagepoint Public Employee Memorial Scholarship Fund, Gina completed her college education, and is now married with three daughters. She feels that she hasn't yet fully dealt with the emotions from her father's death, but events of the past year have brought them all flooding back.
Gina has learned to fight her own battles. A year ago, she received a letter informing her that her father's killer had petitioned for early release. At the time of the shooting, he was sentenced to death. As the laws changed, his sentence was commuted to life without parole. In 1991, he was resentenced to a minimum of 50 years to life. Washington now has an early release program which could allow the killer to be released in 2011 after serving only 33 years for the murder of her father.
"It is really sad because he was given the death penalty by the jury," Gina laments. "It's one of those things that I know I'm just going to have to fight. It's kind of scary for us to think that he's going to get out and pretty much have a life."
Gina finds this trend of reducing murder sentences disturbing. "We send you men and women out on the street to protect us, but we don't have your back. If something happens to you, maybe the guy will get caught and maybe he'll go to jail for 20 years. How fair is that?"
Continuing her battle on behalf of her father, Gina has attended every court hearing and proceeding to keep the killer incarcerated. She has spent hours poring over parole hearing materials. "I know that a lot of people don't understand. People who aren't survivors don't understand how it affects you and why you are so passionate."
Gina realizes that this fight is not for all survivors. "I think God created me to be a warrior," she says. "Obviously, he allowed these things to happen and he chose me to be the daughter of a fallen officer. For me, it means I'm fighting until my last breath to keep his killer where he needs to be. I'm going to fight this guy, this shooter who not only took away my dad's life when he was only 30 years old, he took away my childhood," Gina says.
"There's nobody here to fight for my dad. I feel like if I stop fighting, who else has he got? I'm it."