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  •   For Chaplains, a Week of Grief

    "Things like this bring
    [the police community]
    closer together." spacer
    – Manuel Rivera,
    a chaplain for D.C. police
    By Hamil R. Harris
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, July 25, 1998; Page A12

    Evelyn Gibson, the wife of U.S. Capitol Police Special Agent John Gibson, had just viewed her husband's body on a gurney in the Medstar unit of Washington Hospital Center – and the sobbing widow asked that her two sons be brought to her side.

    At Medstar's heliport yesterday afternoon, the big blue U.S. Park Police helicopter that had rushed Gibson from the Capitol shooting was idling, waiting to go pick up his two sons at a parking lot in Prince William County. But Manuel Rivera, the D.C. police department's Baptist chaplain, did not want the young men to make the trip alone.

    Still dressed in short pants and a sports shirt from a family vacation, Rivera boarded the helicopter, flew to Virginia and was back 30 minutes later with Gibson's sons and friends. They hurried through a crowd of police officers and hospital workers.

    "Sometimes you just don't have answers to all of the havoc that seems to be occurring," said Rivera, a retired D.C. police sergeant who became a chaplain eight years ago just so he could help with such emotional situations.

    Rivera and five other chaplains on duty yesterday are part of the Police and Firefighters Protestant Society, an ecumenical group that ministers to the U.S. Capitol Police, the D.C. police, the D.C. fire department, the Secret Service and Amtrak guards.

    This has been a week of grief for the ministers. The Rev. Lewis Anthony, the department's Methodist chaplain, had just returned from the funeral of D.C. police officer Thomas Franklin Hamlette Jr. – who was killed by another D.C. police officer last Saturday – when he was paged and directed to go to the hospital to join chaplains to comfort and pray with Gibson's family.

    For a short time, Gibson's wife and Wendy Wenling Chestnut, the wife of Jacob J. Chestnut, a U.S. Capitol Police officer also killed yesterday, were both at Washington Hospital Center. Chestnut's wife initially came to the Medstar unit, but was quickly taken by police to George Washington University Medical Center.

    "When we have to notify a family member, we try to do it as soft as we can, but we are straight and to the point," Rivera said. "We try to give them the circumstances as best we know."

    Rivera said chaplains were in demand yesterday at the two hospitals and at the U.S. Capitol because so many police officers, tourists and members of Congress were grieving.

    "Things like this bring [the police community] closer together," Rivera said. "Just because [police] are up on Capitol Hill doesn't mean we are not all brothers and sisters in blue."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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