INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s an unfortunate privilege, a burden that one group is eager to bear. “It’s unfortunate under the circumstances in which we meet these families, but it’s our privilege and honor to be there for them in their time of loss,” said Joe Hamer, chairman of the Indiana FOP Critical Incident/Memorial Committee and also a retired police officer.
Early Sunday morning, he said he got a phone call. Based on who was calling and the time, he said it knew it likely wasn’t good news. Hamer said he took a deep breath then prepared to make another lifelong connection, one that starts on sadness but maintains with endless support.
Sunday, that meant rushing to the hospital to be at Kassie Koontz’s side, the wife of Deputy Carl Koontz, and who as of Sunday is a widow. Deputy Koontz was killed in Russiaville in Howard County while serving a warrant at a home.
“The first thing (I say) is, ‘on behalf of the (FOP) president, our board, and our 15,000 plus members, our deepest sympathies go to you’,” explained Hamer.
After that comes the monumental undertaking of planning Deputy Koontz’s funeral. Hamer’s committee did the same for IMPD Officer Perry Renn who was shot and killed in the line of duty in July, 2014.
“All those military honors, the seating, parking, all the different intricate details that a lot of people think ‘who’s going to do that?’ Well we have specific people that have those jobs,” he said.
Hamer said he’s careful to move the process along at the pace that is comfortable for Koontz’s family. “I know that this is a lot to take in. This is not something that (they) were expecting,” he said.
Hamer doesn’t work alone. One of the roles on his team is held by someone who can share the same pain as the surviving family.
“I cannot go into that room and tell that family ‘I know what you’re feeling, I know what you’re going through.’ That’s why Betty is such an intricate role because she’s been there,” he said.
Betty Jones-Taylor has been with Kassie since Sunday. Jones-Taylor’s husband was a state trooper who died in a car crash as he was responding to a call 35 years ago.
“I was 24 years old. I had three small children ages 2, 4 and 6,” she said. Jones-Taylor hopes her story will help her connect with Kassie but she isn’t trying to force it upon the new widow.
“She’s so lost right now trying to figure out what comes next and dealing with it, in being like I said in shock and grief. So we’re just kind of helping her get to the things that she needs done and get to the places that she needs to be at this point,” she said. “And then just to be there when she needs a hug or she needs somebody just to get some of her feelings out. Somebody that will listen and not be hurt by it.”
Hamer said the bond that forms is like that of a family, one that unfortunately has a new member.
“We are not just here for the next couple of days, we’re here for good. We’re part of that family,” he said.
Jones-Taylor added, “It’s just nice to be able to know that someone is getting the help that I didn’t have and is getting support and the ongoing that goes beyond this point. As an organization, we’re there for them for the duration, I mean for the rest of their lives, the rest of raising their children and going through issues. So it doesn’t stop with the funeral.”