Karen Adolfo was unable to speak for several moments. Asked about the recent death of her husband, a Baltimore police officer, she struggled to hold back tears.
"There's nothing I can do," she said. "I just take one day at a time."
This week, she was not alone in her grief. Thursday morning, she had placed a red carnation in a giant wreath -- as did many other widows and survivors -- at a memorial service in the Senate Park on Capitol Hill. The fifth annual National Peace Officers Memorial Day service, organized by the Wives Auxiliary of the Fraternal Order of Police, was commemorating the bereaved relatives and friends of Adolfo and 153 other officers slain in 1985 in the line of duty.
And yesterday, many widows, mothers, fathers and other relatives -- bereaved in recent and past years -- attended seminars and support workshops, organized by Concerns Of Police Survivors (COPS), at the Greenbelt Hilton. The seminars conclude today, when Sarah Brady, wife of White House press secretary and gun victim James Brady, addresses the survivors.
Pam Talburt of Oregon, as part of department policy at the Washington County Sheriff's Department, had helped her husband Robert select two officers -- and mutual friends -- to be the ones to break any tragic news. And one day in 1984, when the same two officers knocked on Pam Talburt's front door, says Talburt: "I knew."
When officers knocked on police wife Louise Hamby's door in Hanceville, Ala., one August afternoon last year, she thought her husband "had forgotten his keys."
When a somber police officer entered Phyllis Carpenter's house and asked her to sit down, she "walked to the kitchen window and screamed out 'No!' five times."
And, as Carpenter, now a grief counselor, pointed out in a seminar speech yesterday, the survivors' new lives of coping with grief were only just beginning. It is a prolonged, if not unending experience that goes through a range of reactions: shock, disbelief and denial; anger, guilt and regret that fate had not been altered; deep depression; and a painful struggle to find some kind of serenity.
Last September, widow Pamela Norwood had to tell her 4-year-old son Damario his father, a Houston police officer, was dead. He seemed to accept it, but recently has been asking his mother why his father no longer visits.
"I'll see his uniform, or be at some place where we've gone together before," says Pam Talburt, and the memories cascade back.
Phyllis Carpenter could not bring herself to set the dinner table. One day, when she finally asked her 7-year-old daughter to set the table, the girl returned moments later, "ashen-faced." She had put a plate where her father would have sat. "Oh Mummy," she said, "I forgot."
Many interviewed yesterday said their children, including Damario (now 5), have expressed desires to work in law enforcement as a result of their fathers' deaths.
Thursday had been an emotional day for the survivors, who came from all over the country to share their grief. Nearly 3,000 police officers silently lined the perimeter and steps of the Senate Park Thursday morning, as the bereaved walked past them. The quiet was punctuated only by the clack and shuffle of women's heels and toddlers' shoes as the families and friends approached the wreath.
The officers, who had also come from around the country, either with their own money or sponsored by police associations, formed a collage of browns, greens, blues and blacks; of motorbike helmets, police caps and cowboy hats; of knee-high boots and rubber-soled shoes; of officers from as far as Puerto Rico and San Diego, and as near as Montgomery County. It was a mass sharing of grief that comforted at the same time as it produced tears.
As the bereaved, one after the other, placed the carnations on the wreath, the names of the victims were read out, state by state, over the public address system. Among those named were four officers from the District: FBI officer Robin Ahrens (killed in Phoenix), Enrique Salazar Camarena and Larry N. Carwell from the Drug Enforcement Administration, and D.C. Metropolitan Police Sgt. Joseph M. Cournoyer. The list also included three officers from Virginia and two from Maryland, the latter state including Karen Adolfo's late husband Vincent.
Cournoyer's wife Darlene attended the service, accompanied by her sister Karen Mitchell, her mother Alice Johnson, and father of the victim Yvon Cournoyer. Visibly struggling to maintain her composure, she declined to talk about the tragedy in her life.
The ceremony, attended by Sens. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Reps. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Calif.) and William J. Hughes (D-N.J.), and a stone's throw from the Capitol, was not only a forum for testimony to heroic sacrifice, but also for condemnation of gun laws that do not ensure protection of police officers.
"Some of us have sought reform of our criminal laws," said Lungren, "and a ban on what are aptly described as 'cop-killer bullets.' "
"I've known a lot of people killed," said Hialeah, Fla., police officer Bob Spiegel, who has attended all of the peace officer memorial services. "It's a hard thing."
"We're number one in the nation for officers being killed," said San Diego police officer Vince Krolikowski, standing in the line of officers. He had come to Washington with friend Colleen Riggs, whose husband Thomas was one of the 154 killed last year. That very day, he said, the murder trial was being conducted in San Diego.
"Law enforcement officers will again be on the Hill," declared Richard Boyd, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. "We'll tell Congress there is a price to pay for the McClure-Volkmer Act which eases restrictions on interstate handgun sales . Predictably, it is the law enforcement officers who pay that price."