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Memorial honors slain Tampa officers' commitment to protect community

Sandy Kocab places a kiss on the etched replica of her son Jeffrey Kocab’s badge on the glass at the entrance of District 3 headquarters on Wednesday evening. A ceremony commemorated the one-year anniversary of the death of her son and fellow officer David Curtis.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Sandy Kocab places a kiss on the etched replica of her son Jeffrey Kocab’s badge on the glass at the entrance of District 3 headquarters on Wednesday evening. A ceremony commemorated the one-year anniversary of the death of her son and fellow officer David Curtis.

TAMPA

Squad 306 makes its home in a concrete building in east Tampa, a few miles from where two of its officers fell a year ago.

It's where members gather before overnight shifts, where they catch up during roll call meetings and where they joined together Wednesday night, a year after a gunman killed squad mates Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.

Granite memorials honoring fallen law enforcement officers dot the nation. There's one at police headquarters downtown and another at a sheriff's office in Ybor City.

Squad 306 wanted something of its own. Something subtle in the back of its District 3 headquarters in College Hill, for the officers' families and themselves.

"We want to honor these men who were working in this community to protect this community when they lost their lives," said Officer Colin McCoy, who works in District 3 and helped create it.

Workers etched pictures of Kocab's and Curtis' badges into a pane of glass. They laid pavers in the shape of the badges.

And on the wall, they painted a mural of a thin blue line, a line symbolizing police who stand between good and bad.

A line as narrow as the gate surrounding the District 3 headquarters.

• • •

Two hundred guests gathered under tents outside the District 3 office Wednesday night as police Chief Jane Castor, former Mayor Pam Iorio and current Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke of the officers' sacrifice.

Squad 306 presented the officers' widows with plaques and roses before leading them back to view the memorial, called the Hallway of Heroes.

It cost about $15,000 — all donated — to construct. A second phase will include a lush garden where visitors can sit and reflect.

"We wish we had Dave and Jeff with us today," Castor told the crowd. "But we must instead accept this moving tribute that will remind us every day."

Though the memorial was their idea, Squad 306 members never needed any reminders. They talk about Kocab and Curtis all the time.

Their memories have helped them get through the year and cemented their relationships.

They talk about Curtis' love for his four boys, his thick country accent and his practical jokes. And they laugh about the time Kocab had to choose between going after a suspect or running after his patrol car, which had started to roll.

"It's nice," said Julie Moore, the squad's corporal. "It's kind of bittersweet."

Sometimes after tragedy, groups splinter. Seeing each other becomes painful, and the best thing to do is disband.

But that never crossed the minds of the 11 members of Squad 306, Moore said.

The group became close in the six months before that awful night, and after only one week off after the shooting, they wanted to go back to work.

"We needed to be there," she said. "We needed to be together."

• • •

On May 13, they needed to be in Washington, D.C.

As night fell, the members of Squad 306 gathered in Judiciary Square and lifted candles.

It was National Police Week, and thousands of friends and family members of fallen officers joined for a candlelight vigil. This year, speakers read the names of 152 officers who died 2010.

"Too many," Moore said this week.

Surrounded by the crowd, those on Squad 306 felt supported, understood. But as the speaker approached the names of Curtis and Kocab, the officers braced themselves.

Moore cried. Officer Bill Logan felt the pain well up.

Curtis was one of his close friends. They had served on a plainclothes squad together, sharing shenanigans that a smiling Logan politely declined to discuss.

Like the rest of the squad, Logan focuses on the good memories. He remembers Curtis' outgoing nature, and Kocab's whirlwind pace.

But when he woke up Wednesday, the first thing he thought of was the grassy right of way where the pair of officers lay dying after a traffic stop a year ago.

Squad 306 was the first to respond. The call was in its zone, its home.

But it also was about friends.

"It has gotten easier. It really has," Moore said. "They say time heals all wounds. But with something this traumatic, it never goes away."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Memorial honors slain Tampa officers' commitment to protect community 06/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 9:48am]

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