TARPON SPRINGS — It took a few years, but Teresa Kondek can now talk about the death of her husband without breaking down.
She’s spoken in front of audiences from Tallahassee to Texas. She’s shared her story in a support group for police widows and in meticulous entries on her website, chronicling life before and after Dec. 21, 2014, when veteran Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek was fatally shot while responding to a call about a blaring car stereo.
His widow will tell their story once more on Saturday, the five-year anniversary of that tragic day. But for the first time Teresa Kondek will speak in Tarpon Springs, at a police department memorial to honor her husband, in front of the community that mourned with her.
“It’s always been my place to just go, where I can actually have a hard time and I don’t have to hold it together," Kondek, 48, told the Tampa Bay Times.
She couldn’t five months after the shooting, during an annual conference for survivors of officers killed in the line of duty, put together by an organization called Concerns of Police Survivors. She sat in a small group with fellow widows, tasked with walking through the painful details: what happened, how you were notified, where you were.
She couldn’t during the first memorial service, just a year after the shooting. Her mind raced: “Where do I walk? How long do I stand there? What do I do with the rose?” She placed it on a memorial for her husband, and police Chief Robert Kochen held her shoulders as she cried.
The police survivor conference came around the next year, and she sat with the widows again, only this time, she told it all from beginning to end: the knock on the door at 3 a.m., the frantic trip to the hospital, the hope that her husband would hang on and the denial when she learned he wouldn’t.
Since then, she’s shared the story again and again. She put the total since that small group in 2016 at probably a dozen times.
“To me you can let it kill you too or you can use it to help someone behind you," she said, "and when I speak now, I tell people I don’t share his story for sympathy ... If what I share can help someone behind me, it’s worth it for me.”
Her family has seen other milestones, too. Kondek, 45, left behind six children, five with Teresa Kondek. Birthdays and graduations, holidays, trips to Tennessee, where the family used to hike every year.
TAMPA BAY TIMES SPECIAL REPORT: STOLEN GUNS
Kondek was killed by a stolen gun wielded by Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. It took jurors four hours to sentence him to life in prison in 2018. Their son, Andrew, went into law enforcement himself but hasn’t yet decided where he wants to work.
Kondek also visited for the first time the spot where her husband was killed, outside an apartment complex near Spring Bayou. She didn’t plan to, but she couldn’t sleep, and the idea came to her around midnight. She stood outside, alone at first, and imagined what her husband saw in his last moments. she said. A few police officers recognized her and stood with her, and one gave her a jacket as it started to rain.
Throughout it all, Kondek said, she’s grateful the community has kept her husband’s memory alive, through plaques and tattoos, a police dog named in his honor, and now another memorial service.
This time, she’s ready.
IF YOU GO
What: 5th Anniversary of the End of Watch for Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek
When: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Tarpon Springs Public Safety Building Memorial Garden, 444 S. Huey Ave.
The event is open to the public.