LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - A large crowd is expected for the visitation and funeral of Lt. Patrick Weatherford, the Newport police officer who was killed Monday. Ceremonies like that are often very emotional, and can be overwhelming for the family the officer leaves behind.
Mary Carmikle knows that all too well, and now she helps other widows and families to cope.
She is the president of the Arkansas Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors. It is a support network for the families of officer killed in the line of duty.
“We help them find their new normal,” Carmikle explained, “because your old life is over with. And you didn’t want [a new normal], it’s not what you asked for, so we say, ‘here, this is what happens, we’re here to help you.’”
Carmikle reached out to the Weatherford's and the Newport Police Department on Tuesday, because a tragedy like his death is something very few people understand. She and other members of COPS plan to meet with them in-person on Wednesday to help them navigate the funeral process.
“When it’s a line of duty death, you don’t even get to mourn in private,” Carmikle mentioned. “You’re thrust out there into the public, just like this family is going to be.”
Group members will talk with survivors, accompany them to court hearings if there is a trial, host annual picnics, and send family members of fallen officers to retreats and summer camps that allow them to connect with other survivors.
“I think it really helps, because we have professional counselors there, so if they do need a counselor, they can go talk to them, as well as activities,” Carmikle said. “And then you make your friends from all across the country.”
One of the first things Carmikle said she will help the Weatherford's with is the collection of their federal survivor benefits.
“When an officer dies in the line of duty,” she explained, “there’s a lot of paperwork involved. There are benefits that go to the spouse and the children, but it’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of things that have to be done. And some departments, like Newport, Yell County, they’ve never had a line of duty death. Or if they have, it’s been so long ago they don’t remember what to do.”
Carmikle struggled with all of this, herself. Her husband, Sgt. Monty Carmikle, worked for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. While on a helicopter patrol the night before the start of deer hunting season in 2008, he died when the helicopter crashed.
His widow said she received warnings about what would happen to her after his passing, but they did not help.
“Even though they told me that up front, when they did the last call (at his funeral), to me that was it,” she recalled. “That was the end. So we try to tell them, okay, this is what they’re going to do and this is the order it’s going to go in.”
Carmikle said it took her more than a year to start recovering from her husband’s death.
“That first year, you are just in a fog, and you don’t know what’s going on,” she claimed. “Your second year, you’re out of the fog, and that’s more like when reality hits. I tell people the second year is the hardest, because you’re coming out of the, you’re coming out of that fog, and it’s like, ‘oh, this is really life. This is my life now.’”
Members of COPS helped guide her through the process, and seeing how much it helped her convinced her to get involved. She sees it as a way to help other families through their pain and to honor her late husband’s legacy.
“This way,” she said, “I get to pass it on and I get to help somebody else, and I get to say, ‘you will, you will see a new life. It’s not the one you chose and it may not be the one you want, but you will get through it.”