When Danny O’Rourke met Julie Carnesi in an online support group nearly a year ago, he said he was just coming out of the fog and initial grieving over his brother, a police officer who died in the line of duty in Michigan only four months earlier.
“I felt like I was on the other side, and she was just beginning,” O’Rourke said Friday from his job at the Ford Motor Company near Ann Arbor, Mich.
Carnesi’s brother, Galt K-9 Officer Kevin Tonn, had been killed on Jan. 15, 2013, while responding to a report of a burglary.
After connecting with Carnesi through a Concerns of Police Survivors siblings support group, O’Rourke said it seemed a natural thing to ride in the annual Police Unity Tour in Tonn’s memory.
O’Rourke is one of several people participating in the May event in Tonn’s name. He will also be riding for his brother Patrick, who was killed in the line of duty Sept. 9, 2012. Crystal Mitchell is among other riders participating in the event in Tonn’s name. Her husband Jeffrey was a Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy shot in the line of duty in 2006 along the Jackson Highway.
The Police Unity Tour is a 300-mile bicycle ride with many different starting points, all ending at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. on May 12. At that time, Tonn’s name, along with those of other officers killed in the line of duty in 2013, will be formally recognized and etched into the memorial wall.
When O’Rourke attended the annual ride in 2013, he said he was moved by the other riders — some of whom had never met his brother, yet rode in his honor — and he wanted to do the same. He still remembers how one of the riders took off his jersey at the end of the ride and handed it to O’Rourke’s parents.
“I never met Kevin, but I came to know his sister ... it seemed a very natural thing to select Kevin as the officer I would be riding for,” O’Rourke wrote on his fundraising website. “I couldn’t be more proud to represent this wonderful family and this heroic fallen officer.”
On Friday, O’Rourke surpassed his fundraising goal of $1,750, the amount required to participate. Among his donors are Galt K-9 Officer Nathan Meyerdick and Tonn’s parents, Will and Mary Ann.
They, along with Carnesi, her husband and their two children, will attend both the Police Unity Tour and the ceremony at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
O’Rourke, who is eager to meet Tonn’s parents, admits he’s not that athletic, but he has recently taken up running to prepare himself for the bicycle ride. The 45-year-old is married with two children.
“It’s just that much more meaningful that it’s one of our siblings doing it, and that’s what we are,” Carnesi said of O’Rourke, referring to the relationship shared by members of the sibling survivors’ group.
They can chat on a secure website and hold an annual meet-up at a retreat where they receive peer support and counseling. Carnesi met O’Rourke face to face at the retreat in Missouri in Sept. 2013, although they had been communicating online for months.
The support group is made up mainly of siblings who lost brothers, although there are some fallen sisters as well, Carnesi said.
“You talk about things that only siblings can understand,” she said of the retreat. “It’s just a safe place where you can tell all of the details (about what happened) and you won’t scare them off. If you tell your best friend about the details, sometimes they’ll back away.”
In the last year, Carnesi and her parents have found peace over Tonn’s death, she said.
“And that comes from God ... knowing Kevin is in heaven, and we’ll see him again,” she said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at email@example.com.