Nothing compares with the pain of losing a loved one, especially when died just doing their job, but being able to connect with others who have experienced a similar loss can help survivors feel less alone.
Throw in some water slides, a lazy river and a boardwalk arcade and you get the annual Law Enforcement Survivors Day at Breakwater Beach Waterpark.
Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno joined families of fallen law enforcement officers at the 10th Annual Law Enforcement Survivors Day at Breakwater Beach in Seaside Heights.
The event intends to help family members move forward from tragedy with the support of others who have walked in their shoes, and gives surviving children and adults an opportunity to have fun together and build supportive relationships.
“One of the best ways to thank the members of law enforcement who risk their lives every day for our safety is to support their families, particularly when an officer falls in the line of duty,” said Guadagno, who has attended Survivors Day since 2011.
“We never forget those we have lost, but events like Survivors Day help these families find help and healing to move forward with their lives,” said Guadagno. “I am grateful to all those who made today so special for our surviving families.”
Most of the attendees belong to one of two chapters of the national organization Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS). The local groups are Survivors of the Triangle, which represents only survivors of New Jersey State Police officers, and Garden State COPS, which represents the kin of all other law enforcement agencies in the state.
Vincent Storino Sr., one of the owners of Jenkinson’s Casino Pier & Breakwater Beach, helped start the event ten years ago in hopes of providing a day of fun to the family members of police officers killed in the line of duty. The Storino Family and staff have made a gift to law enforcement survivors of a free fun-filled day each year since.
His son, Vincent Storino Sr., says, “These guys gave the ultimate sacrifice and now so have their families, so to have a day here on us is really the least we can do.”
“While there is of course some quiet reflection, this is not a memorial service. It’s meant to be fun,” said Michael Parmenter, a retired state police officer who helps organize the event.
Among the family members in attendance Tuesday were Dawn Stevens and 11-year-old Scott Stevens, whose husband and father – Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Detective John Scott Stevens, Sr. – died on Jan. 21 as a result of injuries sustained during an on-duty crash in Lacey Township on Jan. 8.
“It was almost overwhelming the amount of support we had and the amount of support we still have,” Dawn Stevens said of the response from the law enforcement community following her husband’s death. “But we’re still very new to this. I can’t believe it’s been six months. Some days it feels like six days, sometimes it feels like six years. But we’re getting through, one day at a time… and some days, it’s one hour at a time.”
Stevens said through events like Tuesday’s day at the waterpark, as well as the regular contact she has with representatives from the C.O.P.S. organization, she gets to see how others have spent years dealing with the kind of issues and emotions she is now facing.
“It gives you hope that if I just keep doing the right thing and doing the things the way we always did things before, my husband and I, and keeping him in mind when I make all of our life decisions, that I’m going to continue to do well and do right by him and for our son,” she said.
Since the first New Jersey police officer was killed in 1854, nearly 500 New Jersey police officers have been killed in the line of duty.
On Tuesday, Morgan’s mother, Phyllis, was one of the approximately 200 people who were able to take a break from their daily routines and have some fun.
“Every year the waterpark donates the day to all of us. And every year you meet new family members and new children, whose dads or moms were killed. Whenever I speak to a new mom, they help me as much as I help them, because we listen to each other and understand each other,” Phyillis Morgan said. “And this event is beautiful, because it brings those shattered lives together.”
There have been 484 deaths of New Jersey police officers who fell in the line of duty.
Line of Duty Deaths: 484
9/11 related illness: 1
Aircraft accident: 3
Animal related: 2
Automobile crash: 71
Duty related illness: 8
Exposure to toxins: 3
Gunfire (Accidental): 11
Heart attack: 32
Motorcycle crash: 59
Struck by streetcar: 3
Struck by train: 8
Struck by vehicle: 29
Training accident: 2
Vehicle pursuit: 16
Vehicular assault: 18
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