Those left behind: COPS holds annual family camp
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For more information about Concern for Police Survivors, call (573) 346-4911 or email email@example.com.
EAST TROY About 140 kids and 95 adults spilled from the Salvation Army Camp's lunch hall on Army Lake on Tuesday.
Most were women and children—the wives and offspring of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
They have gathered this week at the idyllic camp for an extraordinary four-day gathering of survivors. The camp began Tuesday.
Local law enforcement provided a 30-motorcycle escort late Monday for the group that traveled from the Milwaukee airport to the camp in East Troy. Two grandmothers and a grandfather were among them.
Concern for Police Survivors is holding the camp for an eighth consecutive year on the Salvation Army's property. COPS is a national organization that helps surviving families by providing a variety of free annual retreats.
COPS efforts are supported financially by police associations and police equipment manufacturers, CEO Mariah Hughes said.
The camp was a buzz of activity Tuesday. Kids ran and played. Moms chattered and chased.
Tears were shed in a setting where guests said they felt safe to grieve and celebrate life among friends who know what they are going through.
The horrific ways in which the officers died could happen on any Walworth County rural road or Rock County urban alley.
Karen Woodrell of Cleveland, Okla., lost her husband 10 years ago. He was the Pawnee County sheriff when he was shot six times while routinely checking the security of a business. He was 36 years old.
Woodrell's son Jasper, one of her three children, was 3 years old when he lost his dad. Jasper was engrossed Tuesday in making a T-shirt decorated with a press-on picture while his mom shared her story.
"The grief comes on in stages," especially during events a father would appreciate, Woodrell said. "There's no dad when a daughter gets married. There's no dad at sporting events."
COPS helps Woodrell cope by providing venues where she can share her pain with others experiencing the same difficulties, she said.
"It makes such a difference to be with people who completely understand," she said. "I feel safe here."
Conservation wardens coordinated outdoor activities for guests that include archery, gun shooting, fishing, canoeing and T-shirt printing. The camp has ample play areas, piers, rope and wall climbing, and wagon rides.
Jennifer Perry of New Jersey took a break from watching the climbing wall to talk about the loss of her father when she was 5 years old in 1980. He was fatally shot as an officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
"As a little girl, I felt alone and isolated," Perry, who works as a camp counselor, said. "The teachers knew I had lost my dad, but they didn't know what to say. This camp is always worthwhile because it's never too late to start the grieving process."
Sara Winfield of Marysville, Ohio, was at the camp with her sons Landon, 10, and Tyler, 8. Her husband was shot to death in 2004 while he was a Marion County sheriff's deputy.
"Life is difficult, but one has to quickly make a new normal," she said. "This is the one place in the world where they get that."
Tyler said in a near whisper that he tries to help his mom during emotional times by either leaving her alone or making her laugh. On Tuesday, Tyler climbed the rock wall at the same time as his mom. She was first to reach the top.
Winfield likes to recall that after Tyler won a wrestling match, his opponent asked about his dad. Tyler proudly introduced his mom.