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What Happens to the Children of Fallen Officers

Through extraordinary bravery and resolve, children of officers killed in the line of duty honor their parents' sacrifice by surviving and thriving.

October 14, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Seeking Balance

Family members tell Mike Arruda Jr. that he possesses many aspects of his father's personality. But as the years pass and he assumes greater responsibilities, he finds it increasingly difficult to strike the same balance between work and play in his own life that his father found so effortless in his. Still, he is comforted by the knowledge that his father afforded him a template, something to strive toward.

Fort Worth Police Officer Jim Chadwell taught his son something about the balance that Arruda strives for, as well as the importance of being involved in his community.

"My father was bigger than life," recalls Jim Chadwell Jr. "There was not a place that we went that someone didn't know my dad, or a day that my father didn't work. Even when we were in the car, he was scouting.

"One time we were driving to my sister's, and he actually put his little light on top of his car and pulled a guy over and arrested him right there. He even slept with the police band radio on. At the same time, he was a very spiritual man-very involved in our church and the community. Any toy we ever had, he'd take to families, even people he had arrested. He would take them things that they needed," Chadwell remembers.

These factors would come together fatefully for the elder Chadwell on December 11, 1978.

Officer Chadwell had been working security at a wrestling event in town when he received a tip: A man he recognized as wanted was at that moment at a location near Officer Chadwell's home. Because the man was only wanted for a class A misdemeanor, Chadwell felt he only needed one backup. Unfortunately, Chadwell's regular partner wasn't available, so a rookie police officer responded with him.

The officers arrived at the suspect's house with the arrest warrant. The subject was not known to carry weapons, so Officer Chadwell decided to leave his gun holstered. Once permitted inside, they searched for the suspect toward the back of the house. Officer Chadwell was in the lead when the man stepped out of a rear room and opened fire.

Both officers were wounded in the surprise attack. Unlike the veteran officer, the rookie did have his weapon out, but he went into shock and started shooting. Officer Chadwell was shot three times: first by the assailant in the face, then two more times in the back by the panicked rookie. He was killed instantly.

"He died at 11:15 at night and I was asleep," recalls Jim Chadwell Jr. "We usually went with him to the matches, but that night I was really tired. I remember exactly what I was doing. I was playing with toys and blocks on the ground and I just said, 'Nah, I'm not going tonight.' I was awakened the next morning and told. I was supposed to be in a program for Christmas and had my suit out, hanging on my dresser. I just stared at it."

In the weeks and months following his father's death, Chadwell witnessed a parade of well wishers visiting his home. But not all of the feelings expressed to the family by the community were of sympathy.

"My dad had people who loved him and people who hated him," explains Chadwell. "[After he was killed], we had death threats on our family. We had to be taken in a patrol car to school. Our house had to be monitored and watched for a while. It seems sick, but it's true. He had plenty of friends, even among criminals. But there were some people who did not like him and thought that he was a threat. You couldn't pay him off; my dad was a very honest person. We actually had someone come up to our house. My mom answered the door with a gun, with a .38 special in her hand."

Chadwell says he learned some important lessons from his family's experience after the murder of his father.

"I love my father, but one thing I know he would want me to learn from his experiences is that this kind of dedication can cost you. There's always a cost, and in his case, it cost him his life, but also time with his family."

As a school administrator, Jim Chadwell Jr. remains actively involved in his community. But he makes sure that it isn't at the expense of time spent with his family.

The Hurt and The Anger

Adolescence is never easy, but it is even more difficult without someone to confide in. In years past, Mike Arruda Jr. had grown accustomed to calling his dad whenever he needed advice or a sympathetic ear. Today, he visits his father's page on the Officer Down Memorial Page where he occasionally posts his feelings. He tries to do so while displaying the maturity and sensitivity that would make his father proud. But the prism of tears and hurt blinds him to the words on the screen.

Jim Downey relates to Mike's pain and anger. He remembers his own years as a teen and the seemingly insurmountable frustrations and vexations.

"My dad's death beat me up pretty badly," acknowledges Downey, who like the young Arruda was 11 years old when his father, Officer Wilbert Downey of the University City (Mo.) Police Department, was killed at the scene of a gas station robbery in December 1969. Jim entered his teens full of hurt and anger.

"I did a fair amount of acting out during my early adolescence," Downey recalls. "My mother was killed about a year-and-a-half after my dad died and we went to live with my aunt and uncle. They took us in and did their level best to help us through those rough years and rough transition.

"But I think I emulated my father's childhood a little bit too much in some ways and getting into trouble myself, though nothing serious. I turned out to be a pretty decent kid after all. It was a rough adolescence. It was really difficult to realize that I had lost somebody at that really important juncture that was very important to me. The full impact of that, the full implications of that, didn't come along for about 15 to 20 years until I was into adulthood myself until I understood some of those things."

Comments (1)

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David Moore S-55 @ 11/1/2009 7:00 PM

This article was very hard for me to read for obvious reasons especially when involving children of the fallen. In life, as friends-family, (Sgt’s –Leaders) and over time, we are able to come back daily and give the victim’s family the expertise, competence and compassion he or she deserves for the sacrifice. We learn to lean on, trust and support each other in this divine and critical moment. We must recognize the impact that emotion is a human reaction to trauma and loss that if not dealt with can become a destructive and unproductive force, complicating our already stressed emotion state that may lead to the damaging traits in relations and complicating our ability to rationally reason. My heartfelt advice is to first realize that what you are feeling is normal and we have learned even in the throes of horrific and dramatic scene, (this too will pass.’ For some easier, and for some this may never pass, this is not the same as always remembering and honoring sacrifice! A quote from a Long time friend: (Character) -Character is what defines you. It’s the light you shine when enter a room, the shadow you cast while you occupy it, and the footprints you leave behind when you exit. Character is what allows those that may not know you, to trust you and those that have no reason to fear you, to respect you. Your character is what both friends and enemies will remember long after you are gone. Where appearances may cause first impressions, character causes lasting impressions. Your character is the suit that is worn on the inside, which in the short term cannot be noticed, and in the long term cannot be forgotten.” -Phil Messina, Sgt, NYPD, Ret.

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