OLYMPIA, Wash. A difficult year for Washington law enforcement, including the murders of a U.S. park ranger and state trooper, has put the state s new chaplain program to the test.
The program, led by senior chaplain Mike Neil, provides counseling and support for officers in both the State Patrol and Fish and Wildlife Police Department.
Neil has actually served as chaplain for Fish and Wildlife since 2008, but last year the state decided to add the State Patrol, creating a joint program.
Not even a year later, one of the State Patrol s troopers was murdered. Trooper Tony Radulescu was shot and killed during a seemingly routine traffic stop in Kitsap County this February.
Neil had the difficult task of telling Radulescu s girlfriend, Gina Miller, about the tragedy.
When I got up and looked out my window and I saw him out there with our chief, I knew that something had happened to Tony, Miller recalled with tears in her eyes. I was glad that he was there because I knew who it was. It wasn t a stranger.
Neil continues to support Miller by sitting next to her during court hearings for the accomplices accused of helping the man who killed Trooper Tony. (The suspect shot and killed himself shortly after the murder.)
You can t watch a young woman who just lost the love of her life go through that, in front of you, and not be affected, Neil said.
Neil understands what it is like to suddenly lose someone important. His 27-year-old daughter Susanne was killed in a bicycle accident in 2006.
That either kills you or you decide to use it for something greater, Neil said.
So he used it to become a chaplain in 2007.
This is not a job, he said. It s a calling.
Helping Fish and Wildlife officers
It surprises many people to learn that the state s Fish and Wildlife officers need a chaplain. But Neil, who spent 30 years as a Fish and Wildlife officer, knows the job can be incredibly dangerous. He was attacked during a license check in 1988 and suffered from post-traumatic stress after the incident.
He did not have a chaplain to confide in, but today s officers do. And the need is great. The officers frequently patrol remote lands, by themselves, with backup several miles away. They re also sometimes dealing with desperate people who do not want to be found, most of whom are armed and many of whom have been drinking.
Nearly two years ago, officer Chad McGary was performing a routine license check near Beverly, in Eastern Washington, when a young man pulled a gun on him.
He walked up, put the gun to my head about six inches away and said, Give me your gun right now, McGary said.
Meanwhile, the suspect s father approached with a knife. But McGary refused to hand over his gun, instead reaching a compromise: he threw the gun over a fence.
Before long, the younger suspect drove away and McGary s Captain Chris Anderson gave chase. At one point, the suspect made a U-turn and fired three shots at Anderson. One bullet hit Anderson s door, but missed him.
After a long pursuit, the suspect was finally taken into custody. But the dramatic events continued to haunt both men.
I didn t sleep for a couple of days, thinking I could ve lost my wife, lost my family, McGary said.
In the wake of what happened, both men met with Chaplain Neil.
I was able to get a lot of stuff off my chest, McGary said.
It was good, Anderson added.
Chaplain Neil is now working to expand the joint chaplain program by finding a volunteer chaplain in every Washington county.
The program is funded entirely through donations, not through state money.