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‘It doesn’t seem real’: Family of slain Dallas officer mourns ‘big guy’ with ‘big heart’

Michael Krol poses for pictures on the day he graduated from the Dallas Police Academy. (Courtesy of the Krol family.)
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He’d worked difficult jobs, waited for years and moved more than 1,000 miles, but finally the day had come: Michael Krol was officially a cop. He stood there before the cameras, goofy grin and all, as his Michigan family crowded around to watch him hoist a certificate saying he had graduated from the Dallas Police Academy. It was April 25, 2008. Krol, then 32, still had a cherub face. And he seemed to have a long career ahead of him.

It came to a tragic halt Thursday night, when a sniper took aim at Dallas officers at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, killing five of them, including Krol, 40. The news of his death reached his mother’s doorstep in Redford, Mich., outside Detroit, early Friday. Ever since, the family has been struggling to reconcile the gentle manner that they say defined Krol’s life and the violence of his death. He never wanted to hurt anyone. He wanted to protect people. How could this happen?

“He was a big guy and had a big heart, and he was a really caring person and wanted to help people,” said brother-in-law Brian Schoenbaechler, 44, a management consultant in Atlanta. “It doesn’t seem real. His mom’s had a difficult time.”

Patrick Zamarripa, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith and Michael Krol of the Dallas Police Department and Brent Thompson of Dallas Area Rapid Transit are the five victims who were killed in Thursday's shooting in Dallas. Seven others were wounded. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

Krol’s mother, Susan Ehlke, couldn’t bring herself to talk about her son’s death. “Can we end this call?” she said after a brief phone interview. “It’s just a very difficult time.”

Officer Patrick Zamarripa survived three tours in Iraq before being killed in Dallas

Krol always wanted to be a cop. It was just a question of how he was going do it and where. After high school — where he excelled at basketball and towered well over 6 feet — he took a job as a security guard at a Michigan hospital. There, Schoenbaechler said, his brother-in-law’s two passions — caring for and protecting others — coalesced.

His brother-in-law remembered the way Krol tended to one sick older patient.

“I don’t remember who it was,” Schoenbaechler said, “but he stayed with that person and provided them with care and helped them to use the bathroom and stuff that most guys wouldn’t do. And I was just like, ‘Wow, that’s powerful that he can help others in that way.'”

But that job was also a means to achieve his true goal. He parlayed his security experience into a job working in the Wayne County jail system. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but he thought it was the only way he’d find a way to patrol the streets. “It was an opportunity for him to go from being a security guy to being a cop,” his brother-in-law said.

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He worked there for years, and Wayne County colleagues remembered his service. “We are saddened by the loss of the dedicated officers in Dallas — one of whom was a former member of this agency — and also the wounding of the other officers,” said Sheriff Benny Napoleon in a statement Friday morning.

In his free time, Krol played pick up sports with friend Dan Seiger, who recalled him as “one of the funniest people” he knew. “He was also fond of lording his massive height over me,” Seiger said. “He was taller by nearly a foot. … Whenever we played football, he’d try to cover me by putting his hand on my head.”

Then came 2007 — and an opportunity in Dallas. The police force there was hiring. So Krol gambled. For the chance to become a cop, he left his community, family, everyone he knew and moved 1,100 miles south to a city he barely knew, Schoenbaechler recalled. “He said, ‘This is something that I wanted to do.'” So he did it.

And he kept on doing it, graduating from the police academy, making a new life in Dallas, meeting a significant girlfriend, while remaining close to his family. When Krol’s sister, Amie Schoenbaechler, had surgery a few years ago, he came and stayed with her family for two weeks in Atlanta and took care of the kids, her husband said. When they got together, Schoenbaechler would tip a few beers and listen to Krol tell “crazy” stories of life as a Dallas cop. But Krol himself, his sister remembered, never drank.

He was always in control. Always the calm one. Always the one to defuse chaotic situations.

Until he became the victim of one.

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