“Sept. 9, 2012, was a Sunday. That night, around 10 p.m., Pat responded with six fellow officers to a house where a lone gunman had barricaded himself into a second-floor bedroom. The family had heard a single shot and then silence, so they believed the man had committed suicide. The West Bloomfield PD planned to enter the home to help a potentially suicidal man.
“Pat’s sergeant assembled the officers behind an arrow-shaped, bullet-proof shield designed to protect multiple officers moving through a crowd. The officers went up a flight of stairs together and down a hallway until they came to an elevated landing outside the master bedroom. When the team approached the door, not everyone could fit on the landing, so Pat stepped back.
“Without warning, the gunman opened fire through the wall, spraying the hallway with his automatic weapon. One of the bullets pierced Pat’s neck, shattered his mandible and severed the artery to his brain. He probably died without ever knowing what hit him.
“About 1:30 Monday morning, I got the knock on the door that every police family dreads. If he was ever killed in the line of duty, Pat had chosen his friend Officer Rick Trabulsy to deliver the news. He and their colleague and friend Officer Tara Kane sat me down and told me, but I couldn’t process it. It felt trapped in a nightmare. They took me to the hospital so I could see Pat’s body for myself.
“When I walked into his room, he just looked like he was sleeping. I walked over to my beautiful Patty and held his hand in mine, stroking his fingers and talking softly. After a while I put my head on his chest to snuggle for the last time, knowing he wouldn’t wake up.
“The next day was a blur of family and friends and officers coming and going from the house. That Tuesday morning, I had the overwhelming urge to go to Mass. Pat and I attended Mass together every Sunday. Our faith was an essential part of our marriage that we both cherished.
“I went into church and knelt to pray as usual, but this time I was crying. You know how when you’re praying with your eyes closed you can feel your family around you even though you can’t see them? As I knelt there in prayer that morning I could literally feel Pat next to me. He was right there! I just couldn’t reach out and touch him or see him, but I could feel him with me as always. Suddenly, I felt Pat impress upon me that he forgave his killer. Sitting there in church it was clear, and I was overwhelmed with the urge to tell the world.
“I returned home after Mass still on fire to share Pat’s message, but not sure how I would do it. Without even getting out of the car, I started jotting down some notes. I tried speaking into my cell phone and recording myself. As I was working this way, my father came out to the driveway and knocked gently on the window. He wanted to let me know that a reporter from Channel 7 had arrived just before we did and was wondering if I had any statement I wanted to make. God was providing the medium he wanted me use.
“The reporter didn’t even ask any questions. He just set up the camera and invited me to say what was in my heart. My sister-in-law sat next to the camera, and for six minutes I talked to her about feeling Pat’s presence, his forgiveness of his killer and how deeply he loved the Lord and our faith. When I finished I felt I had done what Patty wanted.
“Since that day at Mass, I have felt Pat come to me about five times, at church and at home. When I needed him most, I have felt him lay his head on my chest or put his arms around me like he used to. His presence and our faith give me the strength I need to keep going with confidence.
“And, oh my goodness, I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support! From the time they delivered the news until after the funeral, one of Pat’s fellow officers stayed with us here at home. We had over 6,000 people at Pat’s funeral. Our church set up a meal train so we had meals delivered to our home for three months. We’ve been emotionally supported by the COPS organization (Concern for Police Survivors) and look forward to healing through the support programs they offer. Even the Detroit Tigers, Lions and Red Wings invited the kids and me to games. The Tigers gave us jerseys embroidered with ‘O’Rourke’ and Pat’s badge number, 55, on the back.
“A week after the funeral, I had a strong urge to listen to our family’s favorite Sugarland song called Little Miss. It’s about a brokenhearted girl who keeps telling herself ‘I’m OK. It’ll be alright again.’ Sobbing when I started, I sang along several times until my tears stopped. That night I visited the station so I could spend time with the guys who had been such rocks for us. As we were talking, I asked them to remind me what 55 meant in 10-code. When they told me 10-55 is code for ‘I’m OK,’ my heart leapt. Pat had been talking to me through that Sugarland song!
“Since then the girls and I have noticed all the times that 55 comes up in the course of our day – from checking the time at 55 minutes after the hour to finding the number 55 pop up in the course of making difficult decisions or rough spots. I have a deep desire to help my children grieve properly, and I know Pat does too. Each of our girls has had several 55s from their dad.
“Knowing how Pat was on fire for his faith, he would never want us to blame God for his death. He would want everyone to run to church! He believed in leading people gently to Christ through the way he lived his faith and interacted with others. I believe, even now after his death, that he is still leading us.
“He’s up there and can see the whole picture – especially how connected we are to each other. I think from his new perspective he wants us to stay on the path to Christ and find God’s purpose in our lives.
“I can just see him watching over us. When heaven’s dispatch asks, ‘Are you all set?’ Pat will answer: ‘55. I’m OK.’”
By Nancy Schertzing | Photography by Jim Luning
For information about grief support, call your parish or visit tinyurl.com/DOLoutofdarkness
You can watch the full video of Amy’s talk on camera about forgiving Pat’s killer at tinyurl.com/AmyNews7Interview. See messages and photos from her journey on her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/OfficerPatrickORourke.