Colleagues across the country are mourning three law officers killed in the line of duty over the weekend in Kansas and Missouri.
In Topeka, Cpl. David Gogian, 50, and Officer Jeff Atherly, 29, were slain Sunday night outside a grocery store where they had been called to check possible drug activity in a vehicle. Early Monday, officers shot and killed a suspect, identified as 22-year-old David Tiscareno, after he walked out of a surrounded house and fired a shot, officials said.
Early Saturday in east central Missouri, Washington County Deputy Christopher Parsons was shot to death after responding to a 911 call about an unconscious woman. The woman was being loaded into an ambulance when a man walked outside and fired a shot, killing Parsons, who had been a deputy only two months.
The suspect, Gary Sancegrow, 30, was arrested Saturday night and is charged with first-degree murder in the 31-year-old deputy’s death.
“The law enforcement community absolutely feels that across the country,” said Steve Groeninger of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Groeninger said the deaths come at the end of a year that has seen an overall nationwide decrease in officers killed in the line of duty, though every one of those 123 deaths represents “shattered lives and shattered departments.”
It is a particularly tough situation for smaller departments, he said.
Parsons worked in one of those departments, with 18 deputies among its 35 employees, said Washington County Sheriff Andy Skiles.
“Everybody knows everybody,” he said. “Everybody is like family here.”
Parsons had moved to Missouri from Ohio about four years ago, Skiles said. He had been working for the YMCA but decided on a career change and graduated from a regional police academy in May.
He joined the department in October as a corrections officer and was promoted last month to road patrol. He lived with his fiancée, who had two children from a previous relationship.
The department last lost an officer in a 2007 traffic crash but had not had a firearm-related death since the 1800s, Skiles said.
“It’s definitely not something we’re accustomed to,” he said.
Gogian and Atherly were the eighth and ninth Topeka officers killed in the line of duty in the city’s history and the first shot to death since 1995.
Topeka Police Chief Ron Miller, who was chief in Kansas City, Kan., from 2000 to 2006, said at a news conference Monday that Atherly had been with the Topeka department about 18 months. Gogian, who has a son on the police force, had been a full-time officer for eight years after serving 13 as a reserve officer.
The Shawnee County sheriff’s office is investigating the killings. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting death of the suspect.
Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones said the Topeka officers were investigating a call about possible drug activity when they asked three people to get out of a vehicle.
Two of the people had gotten out when the suspect stepped out of the back seat and immediately shot one officer, turned and shot the second officer, Jones said Monday.
A third officer arriving at the scene returned fire as the suspect fled in the car.
A tip led authorities to the suspect inside a Topeka residence Monday morning. After he ignored requests to come out, officers fired tear gas into the building. The suspect came out and fired one shot before officers returned fire, according to the KBI. The suspect was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Officers everywhere are feeling the tragedy, Jones said.
“We’re joined at the hip. We’re like family,” he said of the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and Topeka police. “It goes beyond. Anyone in uniform joins that family.”
Miller said Monday he did not have specific information to share about the slain officers’ families, but he said the department was working with them and making counseling available to grieving department members.
Miller said he had received an outpouring of condolences from the community and across the country.
One person who knows the anguish is Karen Bohlender, the mother of a Topeka police officer killed June 13, 2000. Bohlender, of Holton, is the president of the Kansas chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, or COPS, a national organization that assists the families of fallen officers.
“This brings all of those memories back,” Bohlender said of the killings in Topeka.
Charles Joseph Bohlender Jr. died with another officer in a helicopter crash. Until Sunday, they were the last Topeka officers to die on duty.
Karen Bohlender was living in Colorado then when officers arrived at her door to deliver the news. “It takes you two days before you can even begin to figure things out,” she said.
The COPS chapter offers help to the families in any way it can, she said.
“They know how these families are feeling,” Bohlender said. “The death never leaves you, but it’s helpful having someone who has experienced what you’re going through and can talk to you.”
Though there is usually an initial outpouring of support and sympathy for families dealing with such tragedies, COPS offers long-term support.
“As survivors ourselves, we recognize the needs and traumas each new survivor will face as the years pass,” the group’swebsitesays.
Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Rick Armstrong said his department had a close relationship with the Topeka police, and he shared the “incredible sadness and shock” over the incident.
Armstrong said it demonstrates the risk police officers can face at any time despite all their training, equipment and experience.
“The most innocent call can turn in a split second to a deadly force situation,” he said.
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