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Police, community pull together to aid families of slain Tampa officers

Bank of America Tower security officer Tracy Griffith pauses Wednesday before a memorial to fallen Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab in Tampa.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Bank of America Tower security officer Tracy Griffith pauses Wednesday before a memorial to fallen Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab in Tampa.

TAMPA — They pick up visitors from the airport and book hotel rooms. They fill out insurance paperwork and set up bank accounts for donations.

They help plan the funerals.

As relatives of two slain Tampa police officers arrive from as far away as Michigan, fellow officers are seeing to a multitude of their needs. A team has been assigned to each of the families, "just the most caring individuals you could meet," Mayor Pam Iorio called them.

"Tampa police officers will be with every family member at this point," Chief Jane Castor said Wednesday, even as the department remained engaged in a hunt for the man suspected of killing of David Curtis and Jeff Kocab.

To facilitate cash donations, the Police Department has set up bank accounts for the two families at Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union.

While it is impossible to quantify a community's reverence for its police, Iorio, Castor and others described a culture that is unusual in its empathy.

"They are grieving. I see it in their eyes," Iorio said.

A floral shrine in front of police headquarters grows by the hour. A Facebook page dedicated to the two officers has more than 10,000 fans.

Detective Rick Cochran, vice president for the Tampa Benevolent Association, is convinced that Tampa is unusual.

He remembers the thousands who filled the Tampa Convention Center in 1998 for the funerals of Detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell.

He expects a similar turnout Saturday, when Curtis and Kocab will be laid to rest after a service at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.

"I know that, when I am speaking to other PBA chapters in Florida, they are amazed at how it happens in Tampa," he said.

The families will have other resources as well.

Nearly 30 years ago, business leaders led by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wondered how survivors of fallen officers could get a decent education.

Their answer was the Gold Shield Foundation. Funded by member dues and golf tournaments, the charity has provided full college tuition — including books, room and board — to dozens of survivors, said executive director Joe Voskerichian.

The process begins with a check for $5,000, awarded to the family soon after the tragedy. Graduates are honored at the organization's annual meeting at the A la Carte Pavillion. "We get 700 or 800 people," he said.

The money supplements a city benefits package that includes life insurance and pension payments. While helpful, Cochran acknowledged it does not go very far if the family has children and no second income.

"I have known some of the spouses of people who were killed and all of a sudden they have to worry about paying the mortgage and the light bill," he said.

But Vickie Metzler, the widow of Detective Childers, found that the emotional toll was far more daunting.

"For me, it was like somebody took a 20-pound weight and put it on my chest," she said. "Every night, that weight was on my chest and every morning that weight was on my chest."

She took great comfort in expressions of support.

"The Tampa Police Department is right there for you," she said. "I felt like the community wanted to be a part of helping me recover. I got tons and tons of mail, and it was amazing to me."

She and others agreed that, while immediate assistance is important, help must be long-term.

"It has to be ongoing," she said. "Suddenly, after the funeral is over, it becomes quiet, and the silence is deafening."

How to help

Cash donations to help the families of David Curtis and Jeff Kocab can be made at any branch of Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union.

Fundraisers are being arranged, including a party on July 11 at Niko's Restaurant, 3705 Tampa Road, Oldsmar.

More information is on the Facebook page, "In Honor of the Fallen Officers, Dave Curtis and Jeff Kocab."

Police, community pull together to aid families of slain Tampa officers 06/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 1, 2010 8:59am]
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