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Cover Story

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

No Vengeance

Downey came to understand that the world is not a safe place, and that bad things happen to good people. It was a hard lesson. Yet as time passed, he would acquire wisdom and perspective.

"But I also learned that good people can make a difference. My dad was one of those good people," Downey says.

"He was a good pal from everything that I ever heard about him. From what I knew personally, he was a good father. And that realization that you have to rely on good people sometimes to make sacrifices. Nobody wants martyrs, certainly no one in professional police in this day and age. But sacrifice is sometimes required."

To ensure that his father's sacrifice was not made in vain, Downey made a conscious decision not to allow himself to obsess about the man who killed his father or to entertain dreams of vengeance.

"You think about those famous truths in our culture-about a son's coming to adulthood and seeking to avenge his father's death. It's been a recurring theme in Western culture for centuries. Look at Shakespeare. The first 'Star Wars' movie was largely that.

"One of my favorite movies is 'The Princess Bride.' There you have one of the main characters, Inigo Montoya, say, 'You killed my father. Prepare to die.' And that refrain plays out through the entire movie. It is interesting because one of the things that same character says in the movie is: 'There's not a lot of money in vengeance.' That's a very insightful thing. I could not have allowed that to twist my life, to give me that sort of single-minded determination, to seek revenge in one way or another."

At the mid-century point of his life, the pain is still there.

"Talented authors can explore these themes, but I was actually faced with dealing with it. My father was murdered and the man who did it was sentenced to death for that crime. But his sentence was commuted to a life sentence without parole by the court in the mid-1970s," reflects Downey.

"If I dwelled on who he was and what he had done, there would have been a lot of rage that would have been given personification. I really wanted to avoid dwelling on the negative things. This man is presumably still in prison. I have tried my absolute best to ignore him. By distancing myself that way, I don't feel like I have to seek vengeance personally. But the thought still crosses my mind every time I watch a movie that has that theme, every time I read a book or watch a movie, or an officer dies," he adds.

Honoring Dad

Instead of obsessing about his father's killer, Downey chose to blaze his own path in a different direction.

"I decided that it made more sense to make use of the sacrifice that my father had made to try to make good things happen in the world. I've led a very eclectic life. I was a full-time caregiver for my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer's. It was both a very difficult period and a labor of love. My work as a conservation and restoration professional has saved things for future generations. I've tried to be a mentor and a leader in the appropriate contexts. I try to be a person who backs the community and who does good things for the community. I try to be a good citizen. In these manners I try to honor my father's memory," Downey explains.

A year ago, Mike Arruda Jr. began to honor his father's memory in his own way. Knowing the premium that his father placed on physical conditioning, Mike Jr. developed an arduous workout regimen, hitting the gym from 7:30 a.m. until noon, then returning in the evening for more of the same. His body, blessed with the same genes that earned his father a gold medal in the police olympics bodybuilding competition, responded in a cathartic, purgative way. Mike Jr. grew stronger in both body and mind.

As a freshman in high school, Mike Jr. got involved in ROTC. Appreciative of the challenges he faced in the program, he searched for opportunities to further his military potential and develop his leadership skills. On the suggestion from a friend, he entered the Devil Pups program, a far more challenging and rigorous program sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps.


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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