GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The families of fallen police officers in West Michigan say the journey has been hard but never lonely.
For over a decade, the mother of fallen Kalamazoo police Officer Eric Zapata has felt the embrace of the law enforcement community.
“I didn’t just lose a son, I gained many sons and sisters and daughters,” Zapata’s mother Connie Bernal said. “They’re just a phone call away and the support is wonderful.”
Zapata was the first Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officer killed in the line of duty. The 35-year-old officer was shot and killed in an ambush in April 2011, leaving behind three kids.
Since then, the law enforcement community has taken in Zapata’s family, treating them like one of their own. Bernal said over the years, the support has never wavered.
“It’s been 10 years and I still get birthday cards on Eric’s birthday, I still get Christmas cards, I still get, ‘how are you doing?'” she said.
Kalamazoo police will escort Zapata’s family to the funeral of fallen county sheriff’s office Deputy Ryan Proxmire on Sunday. Bernal says it’s important for them to pay their respects to Proxmire’s family, showing them they’re not alone.
“They lost a father, a brother, a son, a dad,” she said. “They lost the same thing that I lost, so I think it’s important to know they can reach out to any of us, we’re all here.”
Losing her dad at 3 years old, the daughter of fallen Grand Rapids Police Department Officer Robert Kozminski has grown up with the support of the law enforcement community.
“Even though there isn’t a father-figure in my life, I still have so many people I can count on and go to when I need anything,” 17-year-old Kailey Kozminski said. “No matter what the circumstances, I know for a fact they’ll be there.”
Kozminski was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call in July 2007.
A toddler at the time, Kailey has just a few fuzzy memories of saying goodbye.
Over the years, she’s has gotten to learn more about the man behind the badge by spending time with his fellow officers.
Her GRPD family has been there for all the big moments, while creating new memories of their own. Kailey says from annual camping trips to showing up at school cook outs, the officers continue to be a part of her life.
“They’ve always just been there just to talk, just to be with, anything you could imagine, they’ll be there,” she said.