There are few people who understand how loved ones of the fallen officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge feel.
Their husband, father, son, uncle, or friend was murdered and had no chance for self-defense. He was targeted because of the uniform and public safety career he chose.
“You never think it's going to be you,” said Jennifer Shelton, who identifies with those families, because nine years ago she became one of them.
Her husband was officer Jeff Shelton, killed in the line of duty with his partner, Sean Clark, in 2007. The two Charlotte Mecklenburg Police officers were ambushed after responding to an unrelated domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex in east Charlotte.
“Right now, it's really hard for me to talk about and see what's going on in our community,” said Shelton.
Each new shooting of a law enforcement officer brings Shelton back to that night. It’s an enduring part of who she is – the widow of an officer killed in the line of duty.
Now, she worries about friends who put on the uniform and wonders when the violence will end.
“I don't know the answer to that,” she said shaking her head. “It's going to take communities everywhere, people everywhere to stand up and say enough is enough.”
Shelton has rarely spoken publicly about her feelings the past nine years, but wants to share now because of the current environment where police officers have been targeted.
“This is their job, their calling,” she said. “But behind the badge and the uniform is another human being.”
“One officer is killed every 61 hours and that's just unacceptable,” said Shelton, wiping away tears. The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund says the number of officers shot and killed in 2016 is up 58-percent compared to this time last year.
"There's not a routine call anymore. Nothing's routine,” she said.
Part of her life now includes leading a foundation in honor of Jeff, which honors fallen officers in her Stanly County community and gives awards to officers making a difference. The foundation also gives out scholarships and sponsors events where police can engage with the citizens they serve.
It’s her way of doing something to help the community which helped her so much.
When Officers Shelton and Clark were killed, it felt like the heart of Charlotte and the surrounding area paused in the days that followed.
A memorial sprung up at the crime scene, officers donned black ribbons over their badges, people stood at attention to pray, cry, and show respect as the funeral procession made its way through city streets.
“The overwhelming support I felt from the community, you can't imagine,” she said. “I can still picture what it looked like on the way to the cemetery with the road lined with people.”
She thinks about what the Dallas and Baton Rouge families are going through now and about the precious support that sustained her back then. “It's the only way you get through it. Prayer and taking help along the way,” she said.
Shelton’s perspective is one we rarely hear. She’s part of a small, but growing group of families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.
Her message transcends the blue line and is meant for everyone.
“You need to take an opportunity to let them know how much they mean to you while they're here,” she said. “Because you don't know when they're not going to be.”
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