SUPPORTING HEROES was born when a small group came together to discuss an idea about helping public safety personnel in their community. One of those present was Bill Keithley - father of Saint Louis Police Officer Gabriel Keithley. Officer Keithley had recently been shot and seriously wounded in the line of duty and his partner, Officer Nicholas Sloan, had been killed. Bill had watched as the public safety family in Saint Louis united to support Gabe, Gabe's family, and the family of Officer Sloan. He had also watched in amazement as the BackStoppers - a Saint Louis support organization for public safety families - helped the family of his son's partner.
Also present was Eric Johnson, a leader of an organization that provides peer support to families and co-workers of police officers killed in the line of duty. While the peer support provided by that organization on a national level is unparalleled, he had been consistently frustrated by the lack of financial support that was available to families following a line of duty death. It had long been his dream to help form a local organization similar to The BackStoppers to provide the much needed support. By the end of the first meeting, the group had decided to make that dream a reality. Hence, SUPPORTING HEROES was born.
- Honor those in the police, fire, and EMS services who make the ultimate sacrifice.
- Create a vehicle by which citizens could show their appreciation for the daily service sacrifices of public safety servants.
- Assure those left behind that their loved ones would never be forgotten and that they, the survivors, would always be cared for.
While the group originally set out to achieve those goals in the Louisville, Kentucky area, it decided that the need was so great that the scope should be broadened. When operations began, all police, fire, and EMS personnel in all of Indiana and Kentucky were covered.
September 11th, 2004 ~ "We'll Be There"
Capturing the symbolism that September 11th has for all Americans with respect to its public safety heroes, the date was selected to launch the ambitious venture that was SUPPORTING HEROES. Armed with only the membership dues of the original eight board members, the new organization declared "We'll be there when tragedy strikes."
Sadly, it took only 13 days to put that commitment to the test when, on September 24th 2004, Butler University (Indiana) Officer James Davis was shot and killed.
The focus of the young organization was to deliver $3,000 of "emergency funds" to families as quickly as possible following a line of duty death. In the early days, it struggled to do so. Since then, the support has grown and expanded in many ways:
- Immediate Financial Support - In addition to the $3,000 "emergency funds," additional support is now provided to cover a family's financial needs until state or federal benefits arrive. Each family's need is determined on a case-by-case basis. The importance of this support cannot be overemphasized as public-safety families often experience financial stress even before tragedy strikes. Taking away the stress of house payments, buying groceries, continuing health insurance, or even purchasing new clothes for funerals can be a tremendous relief.
- Funeral Planning - To help families and agencies render appropriate tributes to fallen heroes, SUPPORTING HEROES personnel respond to all line of duty deaths to offer assistance with funeral planning. (An FOP/COPS team handles law enforcement tributes in Indiana and the Kentucky Fire Commission generally coordinates fire tributes in Kentucky.)
- National Memorial Services - To help ensure that survivors are there when the nation honors their fallen hero, SUPPORTING HEROES covers travel and lodging expenses for immediate survivors (parents, spouses, and children) to the respective (first year) national memorial service.
- Remembrances - All SUPPORTING HEROES events start with a remembrance of those whose sacrifice has brought everyone together. There is also an annual Holiday Remembrance Ceremony between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Benefits & Appeals - Assistance is provided to families and agencies in filing for benefits as well as with appeals when necessary and appropriate.
- Trial Support - Protracted court proceedings often follow deaths of public safety heroes -particularly when the death occurred feloniously. When that is the case, families often face overwhelming financial burden during the proceedings - loss of income; lodging and meal expense; transportation; childcare; and more. SUPPORTING HEROES provides financial and other support to help take those burdens away.
- Social Events & Peer Support - In an effort to bring survivors together to form lasting supportive relationships, SUPPORTING HEROES hosts events to bring police, fire, and EMS survivors together (Heroes Banquet and Luncheon, and Heroes Weekend). More events will follow.
Unfortunately, it is inevitable that more brave men and women will follow. When tragedy strikes, SUPPORTING HEROES will 'be there' to take as much of the burden away from survivors as possible - freeing them to focus on the things that are truly important: their family and their grief.