In Mourning Again For a Fairfax Officer

Police Lt. Tom Vaclavicek is comforted by his wife, Karen Vaclavicek, at the patrol car parked in honor of Officer Michael E.
Police Lt. Tom Vaclavicek is comforted by his wife, Karen Vaclavicek, at the patrol car parked in honor of Officer Michael E. "Gabby" Garbarino. (Photos By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Tom Jackman and Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 18, 2006

For the Fairfax County Police Department, staggered by the ambush shooting of two officers last week, hope centered on the recovery of Michael E. Garbarino. Hope that after being struck by five high-powered bullets as he sat in his police cruiser, Garbarino would recover and lift some of the gloom left by the loss of Detective Vicky O. Armel.

He was doing better. He could be home soon.

Instead, more black bunting was draped over the Sully District police station yesterday, and another police car was parked out front in silent tribute. Despite some hopeful signs, Garbarino, 53, suddenly declined sharply Tuesday afternoon. At 2:45 a.m. yesterday, surrounded by family and friends, Garbarino died at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

"All his systems began to fail," said Kevin Dwyer, one of Garbarino's attending physicians. "Even though he was a strong person and had a tremendous desire to live," Dwyer said, Garbarino's body was too weakened by the trauma of the gunshots and the internal injuries. "Ninety-five percent of people probably would not survive that first 48 hours," Dwyer said.

Garbarino became the second officer killed by an assailant in the county's history. He leaves a wife and two children. Garbarino spent most of his 23-year career as a patrol officer in the McLean District. He moved to the Sully District station, near where he lived, after it opened in 2003.

"Our hope is not lost," said Fairfax Chief David M. Rohrer, his voice quavering slightly as he stood before television cameras for a second time to announce a death in the department. "We find hope in that he was doing what he wanted to do. And we will go forward with him as a role model for us."

Fellow police officers, prosecutors, neighbors and friends praised Garbarino, known as "Gabby," for his friendly nature, his professionalism and mentoring skills, and his solid family life. "He was just a real friendly, super-bright, super-nice guy," said longtime Fairfax Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ian M. Rodway.

Outside the Sully station, residents and colleagues began leaving flowers on the second marked police car to serve as a makeshift memorial there. The car commemorating Armel, 40, who died shortly after her shooting, had been removed just two days before.

"I thought he was going to make it through," said Charlie Hall, 46, a former neighbor of Garbarino's from Centreville, before placing a hand against the cruiser for a long moment. "Unbelievable, unbelievable," he said, shaking his head. "He was a great person. I'm just heartbroken."

"It was over and then it started all over again," Barbara Sprout, 48, of Centreville said as she turned from the cruiser, tears streaming. She and two other women had brought the Sully officers Starbucks coffee that they had left over from a cancer benefit that morning. "You start to move on, and then, bam."

The police investigation into why Garbarino and Armel were killed has not gathered a crucial component: an interview with the parents of gunman Michael W. Kennedy. In a statement, an attorney for Kennedy's parents said they had been "actively assisting Michael in seeking out proper mental health treatment." They also had taken him to "multiple mental health facilities, but he was never admitted," the statement said, with the exception of a brief stay at a center in Rockville, where Kennedy broke a window and fled the day he arrived, April 18.

Twenty days later, Kennedy, 18, armed himself with two rifles and five handguns, carjacked a van and drove to the Sully station, opening fire first on Garbarino, then on Armel. Three other officers returned fire, killing Kennedy.

Police said Garbarino had finished his shift, taken off his uniform and bulletproof vest and returned to his unmarked cruiser before finishing duty for the day. At 3:52 p.m., Kennedy fired 12 shots into Garbarino's car, hitting him five times.

"Somebody please help me," Garbarino radioed calmly from his car, according to those who heard the transmission. "I don't want to die here."

Armel apparently walked out shortly after Kennedy launched his attack and may have returned fire before she was shot.

The guns Kennedy used in the shooting have been traced to his father, Brian Kennedy, Fairfax Lt. Richard Perez said yesterday. Nine other guns were found inside the Kennedys' Centreville home, but Perez did not know if those had been traced yet.

The Kennedys went into hiding the night of the May 8 shooting and hired a lawyer, Richard F. MacDowell Jr., the next day. MacDowell contacted Fairfax prosecutors to let them know the family would cooperate, authorities said, but no meeting has been arranged.

The statement MacDowell issued last week also said that "all firearms in the house were locked in two secure containers" and that Kennedy must have broken into one of them to take an AK-47-style assault rifle and a hunting rifle to the Sully station. The Kennedys had said they were praying for Garbarino's recovery.

Garbarino's neighbors wept openly yesterday as they waited with their children at a bus stop. Most, like him, had moved into the Centreville subdivision about 12 years ago when it opened.

"We were new homeowners together. Our kids grew up together. We've grown together," said one man at the bus stop who gave his name only as Greg. "It's losing a part of your family."

In addition to working in patrol, Garbarino was a resource officer at Pimmit Hills Alternative High School in Falls Church. "He loved children," Deputy Chief Suzanne Devlin said. "And this kid [Kennedy] was 18 years old, a member of our community. That makes it even more compelling. [Garbarino] would have been working to save, rescue, mentor a kid like that."

Former Fairfax police chief J. Thomas Manger, now chief in Montgomery County, called Garbarino "just a tremendous cop." He said Garbarino "didn't shy away from leadership roles," noting that Garbarino helped form the Fairfax police union in 1990.

State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-Centreville) was a neighbor of Garbarino's. He said that Garbarino was a deeply faithful member of the Russian Orthodox Church and that Garbarino and Armel "both put their service to the community into the context of their faith."

Staff writer Maria Glod contributed to this report.

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