Thousands Mourn Fairfax Detective, 'Our Protector'

The hearse carrying Fairfax County Detective Vicky O. Armel passes the Sully District station in Centreville, where thousands lined the street to show their grief and support.
The hearse carrying Fairfax County Detective Vicky O. Armel passes the Sully District station in Centreville, where thousands lined the street to show their grief and support. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Duggan and Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 14, 2006

As thousands gathered yesterday to salute slain Fairfax County police Detective Vicky O. Armel, perhaps no scene spoke more poignantly than the one that unfolded near the crime scene. There, a boy and a girl, 7 and 4, emerged from a limousine to look at the hundreds of flowers left on a police cruiser in honor of the mother who will not see them grow up.

This was after about 4,500 people had attended Armel's funeral at McLean Bible Church -- one of the largest police funerals in memory in the Washington area -- a service for the first Fairfax officer in the department's 66-year history to be killed while on duty by an assailant.

This was after the procession of about 700 vehicles, led by 160 police motorcycles in two columns, had left the church, crawling at 20 mph, bound for Bright View Cemetery in Fauquier County, 50 miles away.

Twenty miles into the route, hundreds of onlookers stood quietly watching outside Fairfax's Sully District police station, where Armel, 40, was shot to death Monday. There, three limousines near the front of the procession rolled to a stop. Members of Armel's family stepped out, among them her young son and daughter -- the boy in khaki pants and a light-blue shirt, his blond bangs falling just above his eyes; the girl, a strawberry blonde, in a black dress and white blouse.

"My goodness," whispered an elderly woman in the crowd, "those poor children."

Earlier, at the church, Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer told mourners that the slaying is "seared into our collective departmental and community consciousness," that "the Armel family, our police department, our community -- we have all been transformed by the events of Monday, May 8, 2006. This was a seminal event in our times."

That event came when Michael W. Kennedy, 18, who lived nearby, opened fire with an assault rifle in a parking lot of the Sully station in western Fairfax, sparking a fierce gun battle with police. Armel was killed, and another officer, Michael E. Garbarino, 53, was critically wounded and remains hospitalized. Kennedy, who was carrying seven guns and squeezed off 70 rounds, was killed by other officers.

Rohrer and others memorialized Armel as a strong, vibrant woman, a dedicated officer and a devoted wife and mother. Her husband, also a police officer, and their two children sat in the front pew of a 2,400-seat auditorium. Thousands more were in large viewing rooms elsewhere in the church. Officers from as far away as Ohio, Pittsburgh and New York City attended the funeral.

By coincidence, this year's candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which annually draws thousands of officers from across the country to Washington to honor those killed in the line of duty, was last night. Some of the officers traveled to the Vienna church to pay their respects to Armel and the Fairfax police force.

Last night, the names of 155 officers killed on duty in 2005 and newly inscribed on the memorial's marble wall were read at the vigil.

Next May, Armel's will join the roster.

"A community is a family, too," Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly told mourners at the church. "Vicky Armel was our protector. . . . She had the courage and willingness, and felt a duty, to protect it with her life."

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