Let there be light
Candlelight Vigil glows again with the feeling that means survivors of the fallen and law enforcement officers
By Mitchell Krugel
Photos by Ed Carattini Jr.
From the state of New Jersey…
April Eleanor Bird.
AlTerek Shaundel Patterson.
Gary Louis Walker.
Charles Edward Roberts III.
Names, so many names – too many names – of New Jersey law enforcement officers lost in the line of duty in 2019 and 2020 reverberated to all corners of the National Mall on Police Weekend. Tens of thousands came back here for the Candlelight Vigil on Oct. 14. The lights had not really begun to glow yet, but the Roll Call of Heroes rekindled the magnitude of feeling and healing that has been painfully missing from the law enforcement profession.
Continuing from the state of New Jersey…
Christopher Dennis Cronin.
Anthony Joseph Lucanto.
So many names of New Jersey officers that when it came time to call the state’s heroes, four people combined to read them. New Jersey State President Pat Colligan anchored the roll call relay, assuming his position on the podium across the mall from the Washington Monument where he has been for enough of these vigils to know what makes it so momentous. And what made it even more so at this Police Weekend set up when the pandemic scrubbed the usual May event for the second straight year.
“When the spotlight is on you up there, you’re literally blind. But when the candles were lit, it was, ‘Wow, this place is really packed,’” Colligan described. “I think what’s amazing is that our country has changed so much during the past two years, but the fellowship of law enforcement hasn’t. They still celebrate and commemorate the way they always have.”
Continuing from the state of New Jersey…
Francesco Sebastiano Scorpo.
Thomas M. Inman.
William E. Doubraski.
The names seem to reverberate with extra commemoration because it had been more than two years. And Colligan recognized how the Vigil provided what had been missing.
“These families weren’t allowed to bury their loved ones the way they needed because COVID did not give them the rights and honor a line of duty death deserves,” the PBA president continued. “The Candlelight Vigil was really their only way to honor them among their peers.”
More than 30 names of New Jersey officers were honored in the Roll Call of Heroes, many of whom were lost to COVID and others who succumbed to 9/11-related illnesses. And once again there was the honor of calling names of officers who names were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall even though they were lost many years ago. One of those was Jersey City Patrolman Thomas Flynn, who was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 29, 1879.
In every way, the 2021 Candlelight Vigil proved to be one of those nights law enforcement officers had to be there to bring the honor. Manchester Township Local 243 State Delegate Artie Cronk has been there for each of the past 16 Vigils. As he heard the name of another brother or sister lost and realized another family was grieving and healing, Cronk said he felt the reality of how devastating the past year and a half has been.
Consequently, there was an added aura to this year’s vigil. Unfortunate, of course, that so many names had to be read. But being there for law enforcement officers meant being there for the families and being there to feel this level of professional pride that is off the charts at this event.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience to be there for a year like this,” Cronk added. “To look around in every direction and see that many people and all the officers holding candles, I actually think they did a great job of getting through it.”
One of the vigil’s most emotional attributes is how a blue rose is placed on the seat of every surviving family member who attends. The number of blue roses this year was obviously overwhelming, but survivors hold on to them like they are holding the hand of their lost loved ones.
Danielle Walker shared that she kept that rose. She attended her first vigil after losing her husband, Bloomingdale Borough Local 54 member Gary, to CVOID on April 24, 2020.
Danielle also shared how emotional it was to stand when she heard Gary’s name called and how grateful she was for the way he was being honored. And as she looked out to see all the officers standing, blue was not just reserved for her rose.
“I thought it was police department or police officers in the state,” Danielle noted about her blue family. “But it never entered my mind that it extended to the families and the children and the parents and the brothers and sisters of police officers, not just in our state, but in our country and worldwide.”
The vigil also reminds of the fortifying feeling that comes with that family. Paterson Local 1 member Joel Torres attended this year with several fellow members to honor brothers Scorpo, who was lost to COVID, and Lucanto, who was lost to a 9/11-related illness. They came to pay respects to their fallen but attending rekindled that feeling that makes the profession so illustrious.
“I can tell everyone it’s an experience that you must go through,” Torres commented. “I will tell them a hundred times because, first of all, I would want someone to do that for me if I died in the line of duty. But it’s an amazing feeling because you are doing it for a great cause.”
Rockaway Borough Local 268 State Delegate Kevin Kukan attended his first Vigil with wife Sarah and baby girl Natalie. As he witnessed the support for the survivor families, Kukan understood why the vigil is an experience every officer should go through.
“I leaned over to Sarah and said, ‘I’ll tell you right now, there’s not another job in the world that this will happen for,’” Kukan explained. “You can look around and realize that if this ever happens to me, your family is in good hands.”
One of the Vigil’s great rituals features officers escorting survivors to their seats. Bedminster Township Local 366 member Paul Piano came into National Police Week riding his first Police Unity Tour in honor of his friend and mentor Patterson, who was lost to COVID on April 12, 2020. And he had the honor of escorting Patterson’s wife, Brandi, into the vigil.
Reflecting on that opportunity enabled Piano to offer a perspective on the significance of the experience.
“You have a couple of minutes as you’re escorting the survivors to their seats to talk about who they lost, and it’s uplifting to think that these people’s names will never be forgotten,” he described. “They are surrounded by so much love, which is something I don’t think you can replace.”
As the sun set and darkness crept in, the progression of candle lighting starting. One by one, the tens of thousands lit their candles and held them up to honor the fallen and to lift up the family members of those who names were read.
And that moment illuminated why it was so magnificent to have the Candlelight Vigil back.,
“In these times, it really rekindled the love of what we do,” Piano added. “And it makes me proud to say I am a law enforcement officer.”
NJ State PBA members came to the Candlelight Vigil to honor their own, escort survivors and experience one of the most exhilarating feelings that an officer can have
The 2021 Police Unity Tour gets the sensation and spirit of honoring the fallen back on track
By Rosemary An
Photography by Sarah Kukan
Danielle Walker rode into RFK Stadium on Oct. 13 after a 300-mile, four-day bike tour from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. As she waited for fellow Police Unity Tour riders to arrive, she heard an announcement for all survivors of fallen law enforcement officers to meet at the front gate.
“I was like, ‘You guys didn’t tell me that we’re meeting,” she recalled. “And they were like, ‘Yeah, you’re leading us in.’”
Walker felt a rush of pride and accomplishment as she prepared to lead the more than 1,200 riders of the 2021 Police Unity Tour into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Her husband, Bloomingdale Borough Local 354 member Gary Walker, who passed away in April 2020 due to COVID, gave her the last ounce of strength she needed to ride into the Memorial.
“It made me cry and get all emotional,” Walker continued. “Because it was like, ‘We’re here. We did it.’ I know he would be proud that I completed it and I honored him.”
Police Unity Tour 2021 provided members and families who haven’t experienced the ride into the Memorial in more than two years an opportunity to finally honor the fallen the same way they have for the past 25 years. It gave riders, whether for the first time or the tenth, the chance to confirm, “We ride for those who died.”
Completing the Tour proved the members’ resilience in pushing forward despite the pandemic. The Police Unity Tour donated more than $1.5 million to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. They had the will to not let their desire to roll into the Memorial be derailed.
“We conquered the negativity of the theme of ‘We’ll never be able to be the same,’” said Pat Montuore, the founder of the Police Unity Tour. “You know what? Maybe we can’t be the same, but honor doesn’t change the face.”
Another aspect of the Tour that did not change despite the two-year gap was how fans gathered on the streets when the Tour rode through each town. When Somerville Local 147 State Delegate Vito Spadea, participating in his sixth consecutive Tour, approached his town on Day 1 of his ride, it wasn’t just his family who greeted him. Law enforcement officers, other public safety personnel and citizens welcomed him and the other riders with cheers and rounds of applause.
“Not many officers can ride through their own town,” Spadea explained. “The fact that citizens come out and support, especially them knowing me, it’s emotional.”
Spadea rode with State Corrections Local 105 members and invited Bedminster Township Local 366 member Paul Piano to join their team. Piano, the first member of his department to participate in the Tour, rode in honor of Bedminster Sergeant AlTerek Patterson, who was lost to COVID in April 2020.
“I figured if I wasn’t going to ride in his honor, I was never going to do it,” Piano disclosed. “It was very emotional, but what was really cool was the camaraderie.”
Piano looked at the department patch located on the lower back of the Police Unity Tour uniforms before striking up conversations with law enforcement officers along the ride. He said the opportunity to ride with a team while meeting officers from all agencies, including a contingent from Israel, provided an experience like no other.
“Everybody was cheering each other on,” Piano revealed. “Telling each other to dig deep and push up the hills.”
Riders relied on each other for motivation to make the trek from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., during the four-day journey. Or they looked at their bracelets, with the names of the fallen officers they were riding for, as added reminders that their struggle is nothing compared to that of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“You think to yourself, ‘That person would do anything to be sitting on that bike right now,’” said Rockaway Borough Local 268 State Delegate Kevin Kukan, who made the Tour for the first time. “So you can’t complain.”
The old adage of “I would complain, but who would listen?” doesn’t apply here. Participants have always said they can feel the presence of the fallen along the way, and Walker realized as much when she experienced a hiccup on Day 2. She was riding at 16 miles per hour when she crashed and couldn’t stop. She fell, bruising her left forearm. It could have been worse. It should have been worse. But she was convinced her husband gave her the strength to hop back onto her bike.
“I think it was Gary making it a soft landing so that I didn’t break anything,” she admitted.
Even when she was not riding, Walker felt her husband’s presence. At dinner with the Police Unity Tour riders, she and her daughter Demi — who, along with Walker’s sister Danielle, greeted her at the end of every day — heard stories about Gary that they never thought they’d hear. They also received a photo album of his career in Bloomingdale, a gift that is typically given only to retirees.
“Demi and I sat and looked through it in front of them,” Walker clarified. “We were crying a lot. They were all crying. They love us, they love him and they want to support us in any way they can.”
A heightened sense of excitement, commitment and family accompanied the 2021 Tour. The extraordinary number of fallen officers from New Jersey — 394, to be exact — seemed to motivate riders through the days of nearly-100-mile rides.
“Everybody was so jacked up to do it,” Unity Tour Executive Director Harry Phillips declared. “I think people forgot how steep some of the hills were, and they climbed them with a smile on their face.”
Montuore said they were grounded and in tune with the purpose of the ride, despite the smaller number of riders compared to previous years.
“A smaller number in size, but I would say larger in emotion,” Montuore relayed.
Kukan, who spent time riding in the front, middle and back of the riders, would agree with that sentiment. He emphasized that no matter where he was riding, everyone was in unison. From the back, he was inspired by the mile-long stretch of blue shirts and bicycles.
“There’s nothing like seeing all those blue shirts in front of you,” Kukan confided.
Finally, riders pulled in to the RFK Stadium, where survivors and officers gathered to head to the Memorial. Led by the survivors of the fallen, the blue family then rode into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in two lines. It was the kind of honor for the fallen that can only come from the Police Unity Tour.
“I call that the twin blue lines of honor,” Phillips revealed.
Kukan had created some extra motivation to make that last leg of the Tour. He rode for Mount Arlington officer Joseph Wargo, who was killed in the line of duty in 2011. Kukan’s chief knew the chief in Mount Arlington, who gave permission for Kukan to ride in honor of Wargo.
“Knowing you have only three more miles to get to where you’ve wanted to be this whole time is a great feeling,” Kukan shared. “But actually going up that ramp and into the Memorial with all the families there, it takes your breath away.”
Paterson Local 1 brothers Joel and Ozzie Torres, who rode the Tour for the first time in honor of fellow members Francesco Scorpo and Anthony Lucanto, who were lost in the line of duty in 2020, approached the Memorial in tears. They remembered attending Police Week in 2019 to honor their colleague Paterson Local 1 member Tamby Yagan, who was killed in the line of duty in 2018. They didn’t know that they’d be passing his name at the entrance.
“Thank God I had the sunglasses on,” Joel Torres revealed. “Because I got watery. I remember we took a stencil and took pictures in front of his name on the wall, so I was already emotional.”
Joel said the view of the crowd at the Memorial was a tearjerker. Spouses cried. Children clapped. It was the kind of welcome that the brothers were unfamiliar with from working in Paterson.
“They’re saying thank you,” Joel relayed. “It was a great feeling, and you appreciate that.”
Walker let the feeling sink in as she met up with her family. She was thankful to finally ride in honor of her husband.
“This is something [Demi] wanted me to do for Daddy, for Gary,” Walker expressed. “I think it’s part of the healing process.”
Not only was the Police Unity Tour a way for riders to heal, but it was also a mission to bring the names of fallen officers to the Memorial. It was a much-needed journey to unite in honor of officers killed in the line of duty while proving that the thin blue line is actually not thin at all.
“We completed the mission,” Phillips declared. “It was so satisfying. I loved that we were actually able to do it again, because it helped heal a lot of our members who had lost people from COVID. And we got it done against the odds.”
Along for the Ride
Spotlighting NJSPBA Locals who participated in the 2021 Police Unity Tour
How to train your Top Cop
Years of training led Atlantic City Local 24 member Joseph Bereheiko to a life-saving moment
By Esther Gonzales
Photos by Ed Carattini Jr.
Surrounded by a pool of blood, Atlantic City Local 24 member Joseph Bereheiko leapt to action. Before him, a stabbing victim was desperately clinging to life. She appeared to be bleeding out from her arms. In a matter of seconds, Bereheiko reached for his tourniquet. Without hesitation, he placed it on the arm that he thought was bleeding the heaviest. This was the moment he was trained for. This was a moment he saved a life.
As the ambulance sirens echoed for miles, Bereheiko and the other responding Local 24 members carried the victim down the stairs from the second story where they had found her on this December 2020 night. They placed her in the ambulance, and she was rushed to the hospital for immediate surgery.
Months later, on Oct. 15, 2021, Bereheiko found himself standing on a stage surrounded by officers from across the country at the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) Top Cop Awards in Washington, D.C. He was one of the many brave officers who were honored for their heroic actions in the line of duty.
Although Bereheiko humbly accepted his award and received honorable mention, he recalls feeling a sense that he didn’t quite belong there.
“Listening to some of the stories, I didn’t know if I really fit in with what I did compared to some of what the other officers won their awards for,” he confided. “But I just think what I did was part of my job. That’s what we do.”
As a part-time EMT, Bereheiko has had extensive medical training. He recounted the regular in-service training that Local 24 members receive about how to use a tourniquet and explained how everyone should train and be prepared for the moment they might need it.
“Everybody should have a tourniquet on him. It comes in handy when it’s other civilians or another officer,” he explained. “If you carry a gun, you should carry a tourniquet. Just like you would carry spare magazines.”
Bereheiko has spent time on his own training outside of what the department and his job as an EMT require. The training he has had enabled him to react quickly in a life-or-death situation, and he encourages other officers to always add to their training in case they have to respond to a call as he did.
“The more you train,” he states, “the better off you are.”
Top Cop awards were presented to many other heroic officers across the country, including six officers from Tennessee who helped rescue residents moments before a Christmas Day bombing and nine officers from Oklahoma who pursued a double-murder suspect.
Bereheiko described how inspired he was to hear the other officers’ stories, especially that of one Navy officer.
“She was telling us about what happened, and she was there to win the award,” he detailed. “And then when we saw the presentation and what she did… She got shot and she stopped the terrorist that tried to attack the Navy base in Texas. We’re like, ‘Wow. She definitely didn’t mention that.’”
Atlantic City officers felt a sense of pride for the way Bereheiko represented New Jersey so well. But ultimately, he believes he was simply doing his job.
“I saved that person’s life that day,” Bereheiko recounted. “But it could be mine. It could be anybody’s. It could be one of my officers.”
Back to the Wall
It has been more than two years since law enforcement officers from New Jersey and across the country gathered at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial to pay respects to the more than 22,000 names of those lost in the line of duty inscribed on the walls there. NJ State PBA board member Ed Carattini Jr. also was back at the wall to capture the images that chronicle “The story of America of a continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency and to protect a national treasure that we call the American dream.”