Bonded by Tragedy
The murder of policemen changes entire cities. It changed little Georgetown, too, but in a way no one ever expected.
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On September 1, Topping was in a heightened state of awareness and concentration, laser-focused on finding two suspects. On the morning of September 2, he was calling an attorney to establish a trust fund for Aubrey. A year later, the weight of Spicer’s loss remains an albatross in not only Topping’s life, but in that of his police force. He asks himself questions: What if I had installed bulletproof windshields in each of the vehicles? What if I had just sent more than one cop car on the night of September 1?
Topping is not alone. One police officer who was vacationing with his wife is still wracked with guilt that he wasn’t there for Spicer. “I lost an officer,” he says. “I lost a friend. This was a man I was responsible for. While I wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, I feel a great sense of responsibility as to what happened to Chad.”
One of Topping’s key initiatives over the past year has been to steer his force away from the would’a, could’a, should’a of self-blame.
“Will we ever be able to get back to where we were? No,” he says. “But are we able to function again as a unit? Yes. We’ve reached a point where we need to carry on, because we’ve got a community to protect and lives to live, but we can’t forget about Chad and his family. The old saying goes that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”
During times of severe crisis, it is not uncommon for police forces to cave into the stress of holding entire towns together, pressure that leads some to resign. In the nine months following the murder of their colleague, all 21 members of the Georgetown Police Department have remained.
“At the funeral, Ruth Ann Spicer told me, ‘This is the end. This is the last tribute,’” Topping says. “I told her, ‘Oh, no. It’s far from over. As long as a Georgetown police officer continues to draw breath, it will not be over.’ Out of everything that’s happened in the last year, the one thing that’s been constant is that we do not want to forget Chad.”
Few others are forgetting, either. What began as hundreds of people holding small white candles on a quiet evening last September has now, a year after Spicer’s death, become a small militia of support for his family.
The Tour de Force, a national philanthropic organization that raises funds for the families of fallen police officers, presented a check for $5,000 to Spicer’s parents and Topping. Pettyjohn says the town is looking to raise funds to build a monument in The Circle that will serve as a tribute to Spicer and Harvey Gregg, a Georgetown police officer who suffered a heart attack while on duty several decades ago.
In May a Delaware Law Enforcement Memorial on Legislative Mall was dedicated in Dover, where a black granite wall with the statue of a kneeling policeman honors the 36 Delaware officers who have died in the line of duty. At the ceremony, each of the names of the officers was read. When Spicer’s name was read, Aubrey placed a single rose on the monument.
A week later, a memorial service hosted by Police Unity Tour Chapter II of New Jersey took place in The Circle, which included dozens of bicyclists, police motorcycle units and a presentation to the Spicer family. In June a memorial golf tournament was held at the Heritage Shores Golf Club. It raised thousands in support of Aubrey.
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