NEWTON, Kan. (Christian Examiner) – When 13 year-old Jaden Ramos, son of slain NYPD officer Rafael Ramos, took to Facebook last month to mourn the death of his father, it was a stark reminder that law enforcement officers and their families are often victims of violent crime.
Kansas resident Karla Ford Winslow knows that reality all too well.
Winslow's twin brother and only sibling, Harvey County Kansas Deputy Sheriff Kurt Andrew Ford, was killed in the line of duty during the early morning hours of April 9, 2005.
Though off duty, the 38-year-old was called into action as a member of the Harvey County Emergency Response Team to respond to a domestic dispute involving a hostage. During the rescue attempt, Ford was fatally shot in the head by Gregory Alan Moore, a convicted felon with a history of domestic violence. Moore was convicted of capital murder and is currently serving a life sentence.
In the following paragraphs, Karla shares her hurt over a murdered brother and the healing faith that helped guide her through the ordeal.
"Kurt and I were fraternal twins adopted as newborns by a couple nearing the age of 40. We were the only two children they ever had.
"My brother and I were extremely close and shared a special bond. He had the ability to know when I needed help.
"One time in second grade, a bully was treating me badly on the playground, holding me by the neck against a fence, and trying to make me eat milkweed. Kurt's teacher recalled him sitting straight up in his desk then bolting out of the classroom which had no windows. The next thing I knew that bully was flying across the ground as Kurt hit him running with such force that everybody went tumbling.
"No more bully.
"Another time, in our junior year of high school, I had a little fender-bender in front of a restaurant. A friend working there asked if he should call my dad. I said, 'Nope. Kurt will be here in a minute.' He couldn't believe it when Kurt rounded the corner. Getting out of the car, Kurt said, 'I knew it. I knew it!' This totally baffled our friend.
"I just smiled.
"The thing that stills haunts me the most is that on the morning of April 9, 2005, I didn't instinctively know Kurt was in trouble.
"Kurt was born to law enforcement.
"Our dad had an audiology business which required us to travel and stay in different communities during our childhood. At the age of five, we moved to a new apartment in Marshall, Tex.
"As our parents were busy moving things in, Kurt, who couldn't even write yet, had a little tablet and pencil and went from apartment to apartment asking people for their 'autograph,' apartment number, and the number of children living there. We lived in several states throughout the Midwest, and everywhere we went, he knew all the neighbors for blocks within the first week.
"As a career, he started hanging out at the police department before he graduated high school.
"He worked part-time jobs with off-duty officers every chance he got until he was eventually known by all and they realized he wasn't going anywhere. He was hired as a jailer, went through the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Academy, and eventually was hired as a deputy with the Harvey County Kansas Sheriff's office. He had a very successful law enforcement career in Kansas and Colorado and made many friends, even some of whom he arrested.
"On the evening of April 8, 2005, Kurt took my daughters, ages 8 and 9, to Build-A-Bear for their annual 'spoiling nieces for their birthday' night. When he dropped them off at home, we waved and said, 'See ya tomorrow!'
"My husband of almost fifteen years at the time, John, the fire/EMS captain, was on call that night and the scanner was on.
"I heard several sirens close by. I knew something terrible was happening because they grew louder and there were so many. My question was, 'Why isn't there any traffic on the scanner?'
"It wasn't long before John received a phone call from one of his guys. It was an emergency response team call, and those are not broadcast on regular frequencies. He announced that Kurt had been shot and that it 'didn't look good.'
"While listening to the conversation, I pulled on the closest thing I could find to wear and started making my way to the door. I remember not being able to feel my legs as they carried me to the truck that basically needed to drive itself. Kurt was two blocks from my house. I had to get to him.
"My son was 12 and had to become a man very fast that night. We woke him in the middle of the night and told him he had to watch his sisters while we took care of things until someone came to be with them.
"The children—they were just so young and frightened and had to grow up so fast that night.
"In my children's eyes, the sun rose and set in their uncle Kurt. Nearly ten years later, my youngest daughter still sleeps every night with that monkey from Build-A-Bear she got for her last birthday with my brother, and she is the one who still cries.
"As I followed the ambulance to the hospital, the Lord spoke to me. He reminded me quite simply, 'I do not give you a spirit of fear.' I repeated that over and over, out loud, as I drove.
"Because I had been a respiratory therapist at the hospital where they took him, I was allowed into the trauma room and was by Kurt's side as they tried in vain to resuscitate him. I held his hand and eventually called the code that would take away my twin forever.
"Everyone was in shock. These were his friends. The medical staff, the law enforcement, EMS, and fire department guys—they all knew him. Even the chaplain was in shock. They were stunned because it was so violent and because it happened to him. Kurt had experienced other close calls. I recall one specific story he told me when he had pulled someone over who had a shotgun in the front seat with him. The person later told Kurt he had planned to use it but changed his mind.
"Those guys know it can happen. They train hard, and Kurt was the best. He trained hard, and he would make sure that everyone on his team trained hard. He was very, very good at what he did. Kurt could talk people down. He shared the Lord with many people—and with a lot of people before he got them to jail. They would thank him for what he had done helping them and getting them off the streets.
"In the trauma room, I knew I had to do something. Looking around and just seeing everyone absolutely stunned and sad beyond anything you can ever imagine, I felt a complete, sudden urge. I just started grabbing everyone's hands. I knew there were people there that didn't know God. 'God, help me,' I asked.
"I grabbed the nurse's hand, EMS, fire, doctor, chaplain, and law enforcement guys, and led them to hold hands in a circle and pray. I was so frightened for what they had just encountered and wanted them to be okay. I knew the only way they could be okay was to make sure God was there and recognized. It wasn't His fault. I knew that.
"I don't remember everything, but I think I just asked Him to please protect the hearts and minds of these brave men and women. I remembered that God does not give us a 'spirit of fear,' and He reminded me about the second half of that verse, "but of power and strength!" Not mine, but His.
"That is the only way I got through those first few minutes. Then, I had to go see our parents while the sheriff went to talk to Kurt's wife and sons.
"When we got to my parents, John really took the reins there. My parents understood Kurt's job and were so proud of him, but Dad always feared he would get hurt. I used to say, "Dad, you cannot live your whole life worrying," but he loved his children. When he heard the news, my father put his head in his hands, shook his head, and said, "I knew this would happen." I saw my parents die emotionally that day.
"In the days that followed Kurt's death, God sustained me in a way that only He could do.
"Even though I flunked the only speech class I ever took, I was the family spokesperson at Kurt's funeral. I wasn't sure I could do it, and my mother was also afraid that I couldn't do it. I asked God to help me. People think I'm crazy, but as I walked up those steps to the platform, I literally felt the hand of God lift me up them, and I was able to speak to the crowd of more than 4,000 in attendance.
"In the immediate aftermath of Kurt's death, I felt the need to protect, and John too – he assumed the role to take care of both families.
"We tried. I know it was to a fault at times. I would even put my family on the backburner to make sure others were okay first. I don't know if that was right or wrong, but we felt very strongly about that in the beginning. We kind of backed off as others got involved.
"We took care of my parents who were just completely devastated. They were in their late 70s when this happened. Even though they were surrounded by grandchildren and other people who loved and supported them, it was so devastating for them to lose their only son in such a violent way. They lost hope and gave up. I watched them waste away. Dad was soon diagnosed with cancer, and he died in July of 2008 followed by my mother in February of 2009.
"Probably the most important thing God enabled me to do was to forgive. It is not me but Christ within me that has allowed me to forgive. I basically lost my family of origin because of one person's decision to take Kurt's life, but I'm continually drawn back into the arms of Jesus who has always provided the right friend, Scripture, or happy memory that keeps me going.
"Forgiveness for me is a determination not to harbor feelings of bitterness and resentment about what happened. It came fairly immediately—even there in the trauma room. What had been done had been done. We have to leave it and move on. 'We have more to do now. We have work to do now,' I thought.
"Was I angry with Greg [her brother's killer]?
"A lot of people don't understand forgiveness and what that means. The Bible commands us to forgive and that's easy to say unless you're met with a situation like this that seems unforgiveable.
"It's a feeling.
"It's knowing the strength that comes from God that allows it to be.
"I could not just continue to hold that burden of not forgiving Greg for what he did. It's something God removed in order to allow me to live especially with all the other loss. Just to know where Kurt was, he would want us to forgive. I know he would.
"Forgiveness does not mean lack of legal due process.
"The result of the choice Greg made that night is that he has the consequence now of dying in prison. He's living a horrible life right now, so for me to harbor feelings against him is useless. He knows he did wrong. My prayer for him, honestly, is that he would be saved. I have to be able to forgive him. I hope and pray that somewhere, somebody will plant a seed and that he will be saved. I think God calls us to forgive. It's hard to explain. It's only through Christ I'm able to do this.
"I still think about it. I think about it a lot. But do I feel angry, callous, or bitter? No. You cannot let bitterness overwhelm you to the point of death. It just eats away at you if you let it, and it will take away your life. That's not what God intends.
"Usually twice a year, a few days before our birthday and a few days before the anniversary date of his death, memories come back and it can be hard to function. I usually take some time off, visit the cemetery, get away by myself, and pray. That seems to be the best way to deal with it. I've tried in the past to just work through it, but that doesn't always go well.
"It's also important to avoid being around other people who will encourage bitterness.
"One of the things I learned early on was to be thankful. I remember taking a walk one time feeling so bad, hardly able to put one foot in front of the other, and seeing a leaf, and I said, 'Thank You for letting me see a small leaf.' I walked and thanked God for the leaves, the breeze, and kept on. I felt His strength within me with everything I thanked Him for. Along with forgiveness, thankfulness in the pain—that's where you find the strength He wants you to receive.
"I also found healing in helping others. You don't have to look far to find someone else in pain, and I think that is what kept me out of a well a lot of times. Try to look around and see what you can do for someone else and you'll see, 'Hey, I'm not the only one here.' It hurts. It takes time. The pain comes back—anything brings it back. Try to look around and see there are others in pain and that helps keep it in perspective.
"I am very thankful for my life today and the ability to have a memory. God supplied a way for us to remember those we've lost and loved. I'm thankful for the relationships that have come from this, and I'm thankful for being able to continue on without chemical stimulants. I've been offered many times through the years to take medication, and I've said, 'No. This is something I have to feel. I'm thankful to be able to feel it and say it's not me but the Lord within me.' It's not just for me but also for my children. They will experience pain in life, and I want them to acknowledge strength comes from God. I think as long as we can truly give these things to the Lord, He can truly bless us in a way that no person or chemical can. You have to acknowledge the pain when it's there but also live your life to the fullest the way God intends for you to do.
"I am thankful for my husband who has been a source of quiet strength for all of us. He was there to cry on, to offer a hand to help whomever and whenever needed. He was our quiet strength and continues to be when these things flare up. He didn't offer his opinion on things even we were maybe doing something wrong. There were times when he maybe wishes he could have said something. He prayed for us. He did everything he could for my parents. He was everything that he could be for us. He was suffering too – just not outwardly as the rest of us. He kept us all together.
"I am thankful for my church family that helped out in so many ways.
"In the decade that has passed, a lot has happened. My husband is still the fire/EMS captain, and I work as a medical assistant in a clinic. Kurt's oldest son is in the Marines and doing well. My son, after two years of studying pre-med, realized his calling was to law enforcement. He is now a police officer. Do I worry about him every day like my dad did? No. My plan for him was to become a doctor, but God had other plans. He is fulfilling God's call on his life. My oldest daughter is studying criminal justice in preparation to become a lawyer, and my youngest daughter, soon to graduate from high school, wants to enter the medical field.
"Thanks to a now-retired detective, there is a program with the sheriff department where high school students can now officially do what my brother did unofficially so many years ago—explore various aspects of law enforcement. For those who graduate from this program and pursue taking courses in law enforcement, they can apply for a scholarship set up in Kurt's name. Every year, the Kurt Ford Memorial Scholarship Program raises money by sponsoring an annual firearms competition for personnel from law enforcement agencies around the state. My son and Kurt's oldest son were able to participate as competitors for the first time last year. The entry fees help to fund the scholarship account. After the competition, all of us go out to dinner with our families and talk and reminisce. It has become an annual event that my children are very proud of.
"People ask me why I still talk publicly about Kurt and participate in things like this. I want these other guys out there who go to work every day to know that we're not going to forget them and we're not going to put them in a box. We don't put their memories, their pictures, and their awards away and forget they ever existed or served and gave their lives.
"To those who criticize and wish to turn their backs on law enforcement personnel, I say there's good and bad in every profession. Overall, police, fire/EMS, and military personnel are there to do a job—to serve and protect—and most of them do that.
"I wish more people understood how for Christians these are callings from God according to Romans 13:4 'For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.'
"Not everybody can do what they do, and they need to be supported.
"I miss my family so much, but God puts people in my life every day that either I'm able to love or who love me. God places people in your life every day. It helps to take away that emptiness. I know I'll see them all again one day, and that will be a great day!"