By Julianne Heberlein
The University of Maryland Police Department sent letters of support and condolences to the first responders of the Las Vegas and Texas church shootings in early October and early November.
Over 500 people were injured and 59 people were killed at a Mandalay Bay country music concert while singer Jason Aldean was performing. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modem U.S. history.
Texas saw its deadliest shooting in state history when 26 people were killed and at least 20 others were wounded by a gunman at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Several children, a pregnant woman and the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter were among the victims.
The card writing effort is part of a long-term initiative UMPD has participated in for years, said UMPD Chief David Mitchell. Officers will send support letters to the Las Vegas Municipal Police Department and compile condolence letters into a book that will be sent to the families of slain officers.
UMPD has done this for every officer shot or killed in deadly mass shootings, not just for Las Vegas and Texas.
“It’s our way of supporting one another in a profession that is high-risk and also to support those left behind,” said Mitchell.
UMPD also sends officers to the funerals of fallen officers.
“After the immediacy of the event as the bagpipes fade away after the funerals, families do feel alone,” said Mitchell. “When one of us dies, a piece of all of us dies.”
In 1997, Mitchell founded the Maryland Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, a statewide non-profit organization that provides programs and services for survivors of Maryland law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. He now serves as a senior advisor to the organization, which covers about 15,000 police officers in the state.
Sue Nickerson, chapter president of Maryland COPS, lost her son while he was active on duty. Nickerson now runs the chapter, which offers scholarships for COPS kids, participates in national retreats for survivors and hosts week-long camps for spouses, children, siblings and parents of police officers killed on duty.
“Our mission is to take care of survivors and law enforcement officers,” said Nickerson. “My motto is: fly the blue, wear the blue, shine the blue in support of law enforcement.”
Nickerson met Mitchell in 2001 after her son and his backup were shot and killed on duty in Centreville, Maryland. When Nickerson left the hospital around 2 a.m., Mitchell came to offer support.
“If you know Chief Mitchell, he’s definitely law enforcement all the way, but also takes care of survivors of fallen law enforcement officers,” said Nickerson. “He’s brought that mission to life.”
Regarding the Las Vegas shooting Mitchell said, “We don’t just mourn the loss of these officers. This is the greatest number of people killed in one event in one time. This was an act of terror. They’re going to have PTSD for a long time.”
Photo courtesy of Julianne Heberlein