Police officers face countless emotional situations throughout their careers. From chasing down armed criminals to rescuing innocent people in dangerous situations, officers put their lives on the line regularly to keep communities safe. This makes the loss of a fellow officer that much more devastating—both to the force and the communities in which they serve.
In 2016, a group of grieving police officers went out to lunch after an emotional funeral for their fallen brother in blue. And while nothing could make the pain of losing a comrade go away in an instant, these officers found that slivers of hope, healing, and happiness can appear in the most unlikely places.
As part of the SWAT team in Columbus, Ohio, Officer Steven Smith hadstared down the barrel of more than a few firearms. In April 2016, however, he faced his deadliest encounter to date.
Officer Smith’s team had surrounded the apartment of a man named Lincoln Rutledge (right), who’d previously set fire to his estranged wife’s home and then barricaded himself inside his own apartment. From a window, he fired on officers.
Officer Smith’s SWAT team utilized explosives to get through Lincoln’s makeshift barricade, and the man surrendered soon after his apartment building caught fire. However, in the chaos, the SWAT team incurred irreversible damage…
One of Lincoln’s shots had struck Officer Smith, who’d been securing the apartment from inside the SWAT vehicle, just above his left eye. He didn’t survive. Even with Lincoln subdued, this felt like a total loss for the officer’s fellow team members.
According to Officer Kevin Wheeler of nearby Wellington Police Department, the 54-year-old husband and father of two “would take the shirt off his back for anybody in the unit, for anybody that… he could help out even outside the unit.”
Truly, officers everywhere were touched by the loss of the 27-year veteran of the force. Swaths of men and women in blue congregated from all over the state to honor Officer Smith. Nearly every officer in attendance was shaken.
As Lieutenant Jeff Shelton put it, “We were crying all day [about Officer Smith], and then you got a bunch of… officers in there crying. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place by the time we were done.” Understandably, these officers needed a pick-me-up.
That was how Lieutenant Shelton and eight other emotionally drained officers ended up at a Wellington Red Robin restaurant. Little did they know that someone there would affect them all in a way they very much needed.
So when one of her police officer patrons said, “It’s always a rough day when you gotta put a brother in the ground,” it resonated with Jessica, as she thought of her own father. What if it’d be him who’d been killed in the line of duty?
In a way, Jessica understood the officers grimly eating burgers and fries in her section of the restaurant, and she felt obliged to put a smile on their faces any way she could. “I just wanted to do something nice,” she said.
Her opportunity for an act of kindness arrived when the officers finished up their meal. She brought them the check for $123, but she didn’t stick around to collect any credit cards. Along with the check, she’d left a note…
The note read, “Your bill is on me today. I can’t imagine the day you all have had, let alone what you go through every day. I hope your days get better. So much respect.” The officers could hardly believe it!
“It really touched all of our hearts,” said Lieutenant Shelton (pictured). “We weren’t expecting to be treated any different than normal, and just for somebody to come and do that, it really made our day.”
“For those who believe the public doesn’t care,” the Wellington Police Department posted on its Facebook page, “thank you Jessica from Red Robin in Columbus for your gift just because you care for cops.” Meanwhile, Jessica was just happy to help.
“You can’t put a dollar amount on making somebody happy,” Jessica said as she thought of her own father (pictured). “[Officer Smith] left behind a wife and kids. It could’ve been me. It could’ve been my dad… To have them shake my hand and say ‘thank you’ to me, that was incredible.”
Jessica continued expressing gratitude to the officers long after their meal at Red Robin. “Thank you, again,” she told Lieutenant Shelton in person on Fox and Friends a week later. “Thank you for doing what you do every day.”
Though the death of a police officer like Steven Smith is always a devastating loss, Jessica’s simple act of kindness went a long way in showing support for those stricken by tragedy. What more could you ask for from a fellow human?
Just listen as Jessica Dunbar explained in her own words what it was that inspired her to make those nine mourning officers try to smile. This Red Robin waitress proved that a little kindness certainly goes a long way!
There’s no doubt that a dark cloud would’ve lingered over those police officers if it wasn’t for Jessica! Her appreciation made a few smiles, for sure.
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