On a warm Southern California morning in June 2004, a procession rolled from the Calvary Chapel in Diamond Bar, cut a swath through the rolling Covina Hills, then rounded a bend at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. The seemingly endless stream of black-and-white patrol cars flowed like a meandering tributary. Its destination would be the final resting place for Dep. Michael Arruda of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Mourners made their way up a small hill where they lined up, several rows deep, shoulder to shoulder, their badges bisected by black bands. They watched in silence as the fallen deputy's family members made their way to the grave site.
At the graveside sat 11-year-old Mike Arruda Jr.
Twelve days prior to the funeral, a man determined to have himself killed in the manner known as "suicide by cop" succeeded in getting City of Industry Sheriff's Station deputies to respond to his motel room. When the deputies knocked on the door, the man opened it and fired a pellet gun at them. In the ensuing firefight, both the man and Dep. Arruda were mortally wounded.
Dep. Arruda's death did not come quickly. His body, which had spent years pushing the limit, hitting the weights, and pounding the pavement, still had some fight in it. For six days, he held on as his family, friends, and loved ones said their last goodbyes. Having felt their touch, having heard their final words of love...he let go.
Throughout the funeral, Mike Jr. proved more stoic than many of the men and women in uniform around him. He displayed his love for his dad and honored his memory by conducting himself with a discipline and maturity transcending his years.
On that fateful day, Mike Arruda Jr. joined thousands of other children of law enforcement officers whose parents were taken from them before their time. Some were taken feloniously, others accidentally. All died while performing their sworn duties to serve and protect the citizens of their communities.
Each year some 120 peace officers lose their lives in the line of duty. But that number only tells part of the story. Missing from the national statistics that track cause of death, weapons used, and length of service of the fallen are the collateral casualties: the parents, siblings, spouses, and children who must go on without their loved ones.
The stories of these police survivors cannot be found in government reports or actuary tables. There is no central repository where law enforcement survivors can find support groups, charitable organizations, legal and emotional advisors to help them through their ordeal.
The death of any parent is difficult and painful for a child. It's especially difficult when a parent dies suddenly. Some police survivors find the burden too difficult to bear, and when the emotional struggle becomes overwhelming, they end up taking their own lives. Others act impulsively, striking out blindly and ultimately violating the very laws their parents died defending.
All carry the pain. All carry scars that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
For Jena Kincaid an exaggerated fear of imminent loss has plagued her since her childhood.
"When my mom goes out and leaves her cell phone in the car, I get very anxious," she says. "I automatically assume the worst. That goes for anyone that I'm close to. If it has been a while and I can't reach them by phone, then I definitely assume the worst. I used to get very angry, but I think it's getting better. Over the past couple of years, I've been able to reason with it better."
Jena was only nine years old when her father, Houston officer Kent Kincaid was killed in the line of duty.
"My father and mother were driving to a friend's house when something struck my father's side of the windshield. It was later determined to be a bullet. My father followed the vehicle until it pulled over. He got out of his car and approached the vehicle. As soon as he identified himself as a police officer, they shot him in the face and killed him. There were three men: a 19-year-old driver who pulled the trigger, and two 18-year-olds. They had been out robbing convenience stores that night."
As gut-wrenching as the news was, Jena considers herself among the fortunate survivors who carry fond memories of those they've lost. She knows others were too young at the time of their parents' passing to have those strong recollections. Her own sister was only six years old when their father died. In their shared grief, the girls gave solace to one another.
Mike Arruda Jr. has no siblings that he can talk to; no one who really understands what he's going through. Each year, the shutter stop progression of mental images of his father diminishes a little more. As memories of his father recede, he closes his eyes and envisions those that he still retains: the hikes taken together in the mountains behind his father's house, fishing with his father's friends.