Dedicated Detective Remembered Also for Deep Faith

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Last year, Vicky O. Armel stood in front of a makeshift church in a high school auditorium and explained how she had gotten there. How for most of her life, she never believed in a higher power. How now, she did.

She was "a skeptical detective that needed to have the facts," the Rev. Mark Jenkins, lead pastor at Mountain View Community Church in Culpeper, Va., said yesterday. "It was that investigative approach that Vicky could wrap her mind around."

The words Armel spoke that day, on Easter Sunday a year ago, will be heard once more -- at her funeral. Through a recording or a reading of that speech, she will talk about life as a mother of two and as a Fairfax County police officer who found faith at the prodding of another detective. She will talk about how everything changed when she joined the church in 2004. She will begin by simply saying, "My name is Vicky Armel."

Those who knew Armel, who was fatally shot Monday outside the Sully District police station in Fairfax County, describe her with words such as "upbeat," "energetic" and "powerful." And as one who didn't tiptoe into anything -- not into motherhood, not into police work and not into the faith she found late in life.

Neighbors remember how the 40-year-old Armel threw huge birthday parties for her children, ages 5 and 7, and set up craft stations around the house for them.

Officer Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax police union and a firearms instructor, said Armel was the only woman in the history of the sheriff's office, where she worked as a deputy for about eight years, and of the police department to be awarded a "distinguished shooter" pin. The pin requires five perfect scores in a row.

"She was one of the finest detectives that I've ever known," Thielen said. "When she would work out at the range with us, she'd be working on her cases during lunch hour."

At the church, which is run out of a few offices in the back of a nondescript building, Armel became a staple soon after joining. On holidays, she decorated the high school auditorium with flowers and lights. She created baskets for the needy on Thanksgiving. She assembled the Sunday programs.

At this Sunday's service, in her memory, they will be left in unassembled pieces.

"God ordains us with the days we live, and so I can't regret that," Jenkins said. "I regret the how. I regret the evil of that."

Those at the church spoke about Armel yesterday only after getting permission from her husband. He hoped their children would be able to look back one day and read about who she was, Jenkins said.

Jenkins was at the Armel home Monday night when Armel's husband, also a Fairfax detective, told the children what had had happened to their mother.

"They understand mommy is dead," Jenkins said.

Taylor Crossman, 16, a neighbor who had baby-sat the children, said they had no illusions about what their parents did.

"They always wanted to play cops and robbers," she said.

Armel, she added, "was a great mom," who would scoop them up in a slathering of hugs and kisses.

"I just can't even describe her," Crossman said. "She was one of a kind."

When Crossman baby-sat, she said, it was almost always because Armel had to work late.

Armel was assigned to investigate property crimes out of the Sully station, police said, but she also handled such cases as bomb threats, domestic violence, stalking and other matters not handled at police headquarters. Police Chief David M. Rohrer noted that Armel "was a police officer first," regardless of assignment, and had volunteered to help investigate a report of a carjacking Monday and was headed out the door when she encountered shooter Michael W. Kennedy -- the man accused of committing the carjacking.

Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who knew Armel through work, said: "By any measure you want to put on it, Vicky Armel was an absolutely marvelous human being, and she was a top-notch police officer. On the day she died, she was doing her job right to the end. That's the kind of person she was."

In the meetings Armel would attend every Wednesday night at the home of fellow churchgoers Julie and Dwayne Higdon, she often asked that they pray for her family and fellow officers, the couple said yesterday.

"Her hopes were to reach the lost," Julie Higdon said. "Right up until her passing, I know she was trying to reach the lost."

Jenkins said that even as Armel's funeral arrangements were being finalized, he could sum up the services' message in one sentence: "Everything she touched in the last two years came to life."

Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

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