What Happens to the Children of Fallen Officers

"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." -Jim Chadwell Jr.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

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.

Memory Loss

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.


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."


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.


Support and Scholarships

Many of the children of fallen officers have found that the best way to honor their parents' sacrifices is to pursue excellence in the academic world.

For example, one of the greatest legacies that Wilbert Downey left to his son Jim was that he stressed the importance of an academic education, something that he'd largely been deprived of growing up in St. Louis many years earlier.

"My dad had about a ninth grade education," reflects Jim Downey, a graduate of the Ohio Writers Workshop, one of the most prestigious in the nation. "But that was a different era. [In my father's day], it wasn't a degree that got you through life, it was experience and vocation. So it was really special for me to be able to go to college.

"The money that I got from my parents' death made it possible for me to go to a very good college. It was a classic liberal arts college in the late 1970s. For a long time, I wondered whether I had in some ways squandered the opportunity. I got an undergraduate degree in German Economics. I don't teach German, I don't work for an international corporation, I'm not an economist. Rather, that school, and very directly my parents' death, made it possible for me to be a very well-rounded person, an intelligent, capable person."

Matthew Abinante is another survivor who has made the most of the opportunities afforded to children of fallen officers. His mother was only 20 years old when his father, Michael McClung, died in a traffic accident on duty. With the support of family and community members, his mother was able to run a home business that serves law enforcement. Working from home allowed her to spend more time with her kids, but Abinante still needed additional help with his college education. And he got it.

"There's huge support for survivors of fallen officers," explains Abinante. "I don't think a lot of people know about it. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who have lost a loved one in the line of duty who don't know that they qualify for scholarships."

A number of scholarships from both government and private organizations allowed Abinante, an Eagle Scout, to initially attend the University of California at Santa Barbara, and eventually graduate from Brigham Young University. Abinante plans to continue his education into medical school and beyond that to give something back to the community that supported him so generously.

"When I graduate, I plan to give back to these scholarship funds, hopefully more than I received, because I want to see loved ones of fallen officers be able to go back to school and get training. So someday I hope to give back."

Abinante believes that other survivors will do the same, and in doing so, will perpetuate the support that he received for future generations. He hopes that people and corporations will continue to give generously to organizations that support the children of fallen officers, knowing that their donations will not only help a single individual to rise above such tragic circumstances, but that individual will in turn go on to help countless others.


A unifying characteristic of all of these survivors is their dedication to their lost parents and, perhaps more importantly, their dedication to honoring their parents through their future actions. Not all survivors of fallen police officers fare as well. Those who do not learn to deal with their pain and loss often fall into an abyss of drug and alcohol abuse. Others struggle with personal relationships and self-esteem.

In her book, "The Loss That Is Forever," Maxine Harris advises children who have lost parents at an early age to remember, talk about their loss, and not give up hope.

Some of the survivors contacted for this story were so young when their parent was killed that they can only remember their fallen parent through photographs and the stories told by others. Some conjure up idealistic images of their parent and then hold themselves accountable to unrealistic standards. Those fortunate enough to hold onto memories of their parents fear that the loss of those memories may lead to the complete loss of their parents. Undeniably, the loss of the parent leaves an indelible mark on their lives.

Child survivors who have siblings can often understand the emotions their brothers and sisters go through. The surviving parent also plays a role in helping children to deal with their losses.

Peer support groups such as Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) Kids and C.O.P.S. Teens allow kids to meet others who have experienced similar life events and relate to one another in ways that kids are reticent to with other friends.

Those who deal most effectively with the loss of a parent in law enforcement continue to look forward, accepting new challenges while never forgetting the sacrifices made by their mothers and fathers.

Mike Arruda Jr. has his eye on the future, as well. When he graduates from college, he plans to join the Air Force. By pursuing a career in the military, he will follow in the footsteps of his father and both grandfathers before him. Beyond that, he has far reaching goals to create his own business within the aerospace industry. He has no doubt that his plans will take flight.

About the Author
Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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