Travis J. Vanden Heuvel
Police Week 2019, A Different View: Part 2 - Private Reflections During an Emotional Week
Contributed By: Kelly Masterton
Experiencing our first National Law Enforcement Memorial Conference on the Surviving Family side was both completely mind blowing as well as humbling. Thanks again to the C.O.P.S. organization for making it so easy to register and navigate our way through the week. The instructional guide that we were mailed was very detailed and easy to follow. When I first read through the manual while still at home, I thought it wouldn’t be necessary to have so many directions spelled out. Once my son, Michael, and I were at the hotel where the daily events were being held, I was completely overwhelmed and glad to have the guide.
After we returned from Mother’s Day Brunch it was still pouring outside which made it the perfect time to do the onsite registration for the conference in the hotel. Not all of the families had arrived yet, but the lobby was fairly full of mostly women and children who were checking in. I think this made my son feel like he fit in a bit more since he notices when other kid’s Dads are around and his isn’t.
Michael and I went downstairs to the main banquet hall and were escorted by a volunteer to the table where we would be given our name badges on a lanyard that were to be worn at all times in and out of the hotel so that again we could be easily spotted and assisted. These name cards were to stay on the yellow side until the actual memorial service at the Nation’s Capital later in the week. That was the only day that they were to be switched to the white side. On the lanyards were 2 pins for each of us and a white ribbon that distinguished us as being 1st Year Attendees. That meant that Owen’s name was finally being added to the wall along with many other officers that had died in previous years. This also meant that we were in the same group of families whose officers had just died within the previous year. That made for a few awkward conversations with people that just lost someone, even starting at the airport on our way to the event I was shrugged off by someone after they said we weren’t considered a first-year family. I know they didn’t realize the harshness of that statement, nor did they know how much I had to fight in order to get his name on the memorial, but maybe can appreciate where it was coming from. I just want to say that I am here for those families once the “notoriety” of the first year ends and you need to find a new normal.
Michael and I also received additional items at each table including a tote bag that held a more in-depth schedule for the week and a beautifully made, very large frame with Owen’s picture and E.O.W (end of watch) date that was donated by the F.O.P. I was not expecting anything like this to be presented to my son and completely lost all composure. I had been trying to hold my emotions in but ever since that San Diego Officer gave him that challenge coin, I had been finding it was a lost cause.
Across from that table was a very large personal memorial covering the length of the entire wall. It listed the new names that had been added to the wall this year and had silver markers to write notes by your officer’s name. Michael quickly picked one up and wrote personal words to his Dad for all to see. He normally is very private about his feelings, but was already starting to relax and appreciate that he was in a safe place with people just like him. Maybe it had something to do with Sheriff Bruno the Law Enforcement Comfort Dog from St. Joseph County, IN Sheriff’s Dept being on hand for him to pet, but I was starting to relax as well.
Since it had finally stopped raining, we decided to drop our new items off in the room and take the shuttle to the Law Enforcement Memorial Wall in order to view Owen’s name for the first time on our own. I had been to the wall years before with Owen because he was a bagpiper with the Pipes and Drums of the Chicago Emerald Society, and they had played the Candlelight Vigil as well as the National Memorial. For me this was so wrong because it looked the same, but his name was on the wall instead of him standing next to it in a kilt. The wall is quite large, but we ended up walking directly towards the panel where his name is. There is a directory there in case you aren’t sure which panel or line to look at as well as pencils and pieces of paper so you can make an etching of your officer’s name. Michael and I both knelt and said prayers and he had a private conversation with his Dad as I again tried to come to grips on why we were there.
After just a few minutes he wanted to go because it was getting crowded and I asked, “So soon?” and he replied, “I don’t know what to do here. I don’t know how I am supposed to act. I am honored to be here, but no kid should ever have to see their Dad’s name on a memorial. This memorial shouldn’t even have to be here.”
A totally true statement. With that I suggested we check out the new Law Enforcement Museum across the street.
One of the things you get to do when wearing the lanyard with your name tag that says “first year” is to visit that museum for free without a reservation. I had no idea what to expect but it’s a completely hands-on museum that everyone needs to visit. We both needed to be separate but together at this point and this was the place to be. He started with the touch screen video board that has crimes in bubbles that float across the screen and open when pressed. While he did that, I decided to go into the Memorial Room which I assumed would have information on officers that died in famous crimes. It had a large glass enclosure that contained items people left for their officers at the wall in past years as personal memorials as well as computers for you to look up an officer’s name, their panel and line number, and the ability to leave them a personal tribute. The main wall had 4x6 crystal rectangles with officer’s faces etched on each. I had not realized that each one of those was a name that was added to the wall this year. All I had to do was find Illinois and there was Owen’s face. Again, so glad I had packed so many travel size Kleenex packets for this trip.
Michael was done playing on the video screen, so I brought him in to see his Dad’s face and he thought it was all very cool, but a lot to handle, so we checked out the rest of the things in the museum. They have an entire squad car with working lights and everything so we had to take a selfie of him pretending to have arrested me in the back seat. They also have a dispatch center where you can try and respond to emergency calls the correct way, interactive crime solving computers, old jail cells, historic items used by the police, a miniature movie theater, a gift shop, and before we knew it we had been in there for 3 hours.
Once we had taken the shuttle back to the hotel it was time for a quick dinner and then for each of us to have some time apart. He hit the gym and then played video games in the room and I sat down to watch the Cubs beat the Brewers in the hotel lobby. That’s where I met some amazing people and formed new friendships with the women from Arizona as well as their families. We met at the same table to decompress each night. We laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed and then line danced until it was suggested we leave. We shared personal stories and were able to be completely unfiltered with our thoughts, questions, and emotions. We created our own safe space within a safe space. I will always be grateful for each of them being a new part of my life.
Kelly Masterton is originally from Morton Grove, IL and now lives in Temecula, CA with her son Michael and their 3 dogs. Kelly was married to Glenview, IL Police Officer Owen Masterton for 15 years. Ever since Owen died on duty Dec 6, 2014 she has been fighting the wide grey area of death benefits that is within the Thin Blue Line. Her hope is to be able to help other first responder families by creating a smoother process and preventing children from being forgotten after the death of their parent. She is also working on a way to provide free legal access to families who need help in death benefit litigation. Kelly has a determination to educate first responders and their families on the importance of having basic inexpensive amenities such as life insurance, living trusts, and both medical and mental health providers with private services 24 hours a day. Kelly will continue to write about her and her son's experiences at Police Week 2019 in future articles.