TAMPA — Two mothers stood at the finish line, feeling an emptiness in a crowd of thousands. Wishing their sons were here in sneakers with the rest of the bunch. Wishing those last two flags didn't bear the men's names.
Officer Jeffrey Kocab.
Officer David Curtis.
The young Tampa police officers were shot to death during a traffic stop in June. Their names joined 29 others— one for each Tampa police officer killed in the line of duty — at Saturday's 16th annual TPD Memorial Run in downtown Tampa.
"I can guarantee that when David was here last year, he never thought his name would be up there," said Curtis' twin sister, Autumn Stradley.
Their widows, Kelly Curtis and Sara Kocab, ran alongside police Chief Jane Castor and Mayor Pam Iorio in a record crowd of 2,673 participants, up from about 700 the year before.
"This just lets us know that our sons were loved," said Curtis' mother, Cindy Warren. "What it doesn't do is close the hole in our hearts. We haven't found anything that seals the hole yet."
Warren, who lives in Alabama, met with Jeff Kocab's mother, Sandy Kocab, as soon as Warren arrived in Tampa this week. Through their shared grief, the women have become close friends, Warren said.
"Not friends," Kocab corrected. "Family."
On Wednesday, they went together to their sons' graves.
At the race, they said emotions were mixed. They clapped and smiled as the first few runners made it back, then cried as a group of Sheriff's Office cadets marched through in unison.
"After everything that's happened, it's hard to see people still wanting to risk their lives for this job," Sandy Kocab said.
It's the reason Kocab said she prays out loud each time she hears a siren: God protect the officers. Amen.
The nearly $60,000 collected at the race will go to a memorial fund that benefits fallen officers' families, annual scholarships and upkeep of the fallen officers' memorial at police headquarters, said race director Jim Contento.
"That all these people would show up, we just couldn't believe it," Contento said. "It makes you feel good."
Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442.