Since forming in 2014 as a group dedicated to sending flower arrangements to line of duty death services, Brothers Before Others has grown into something so much more. For those within the law enforcement community who would say that the fraternity is dead, well, you’re simply not looking in the right places. BBO Founder/President Michael Burke explains, “What we have become is a home; a place where law enforcement officers can feel safe from judgement, ridicule and hostility. We’re a place where compassion, understanding and benevolence are encouraged and, as a result, flourish. Sure we have pulled off some amazing events on the biggest stages, relying primarily on member donations. However, it’s all of the little things that happen every day, often one member to another, members who likely have never met before, that not only says what we are but more importantly who we are.”
Indeed, as Michael pointed out, the members of BBO have been witness to some amazing things in our short four years. However, few stand up to the level of love, respect and camaraderie experienced over the last 72 hours. It’s nearly impossible to sum it all up or even begin to dissect all the layers, but we’ll do our best.
When BBO Trustee and Union Beach Police Officer Matt Gajewski created the team earlier this year, he never could have predicted what it would become. On 07/15/18, the members of Weymouth Police Department lost one of their own, Sgt Michael Chesna, in the line of duty. In response to that loss, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation traveled to Weymouth and paid off the Chesna family mortgage. As police officers often do, the members of Weymouth PD needed to repay that kindness and, at the same time, pay it forward. As such, over 20 members of the department, including Sgt Chesna’s wife and family, with ranks as high as Captain, decided to travel from Massachusetts to New York in order to participate in this year’s Tunnel to Tower event as part of the BBO team. Right then and there, the BBO team became ‘Team Chesna’. That team, which consisted of 163 participants and nearly 50 uniformed officers from all over the country, including 16 uniformed officers from the Port Authority of NY/NJ Police Department, wound up being the largest single team entered in the event. Looking back on the team, Matt summed it up, “Whenever you have the opportunity to get up and physically do something to honor someone who gave their life for something you believe in, you jump on it. I just hope the ones we honor are as proud of us as we are of them. I hope we are doing right by the ones who have gone before us and the loved ones they have left behind”
Also participating in the event with ‘Team Chesna’ was BBO member and Baltimore County Police Corporal Eric Brennan. While Eric was there honoring Sgt Chesna, his heart was heavy with a personal loss of his own. On 5/21/18, the members of the Baltimore County Police Department lost one of their own, Police Officer First Class Amy Sorrells Caprio, in the line of duty. Amy was also Eric’s cousin. In her honor, Eric traveled from Baltimore to New York, and carried Amy’s shield with him for the duration of the weekend. Corporal Brennan said, “Running in the Tunnel to Towers 5k with Brothers Before Others team wasn’t just an everyday event or just running in a 5k. The whole day was a true experience. To be able to come to New York City in order to pay tribute to FDNY Stephen Siller’s legacy and honor Sgt Michael Chesna with his brothers in arms will be a day I will always cherish. At the same time, I was able to continue honoring POFC Amy Caprio as I ran in her memory. It was awesome meeting everyone, sharing stories and being a part of the fraternalism that is BBO.”
Likewise, BBO Trustee and San Diego Police Sergeant Ken Fortier, traveled from California to New York with personal losses in mind. On 10/28/10 San Diego Police Officer Christopher Wilson was killed in the line of duty. On 7/28/16, San Diego Police Officer II Jonathan “JD” DeGuzman was also killed. Both were close friends of his and the losses are still felt today. Sgt Fortier recalled, “This was my first year participating in the Tunnel to Towers. I put on my uniform for maybe my last time as I’m retiring next June. I ran to honor all the cops who didn’t make it to retirement, including those I worked with like “JD” and Christopher Wilson. Coming out of the tunnel and seeing the uniformed personnel holding banners of the police officers and firemen lost on 9/11 is something that I will never forget.”
Leading the team to the start line was Zechariah Cartledge. Zechariah, an amazingly mature and genuine 9 year old Florida resident, has individually raised nearly $12,000.00 for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and has participated in their events in both Florida and New York. He does so in the memory of Port Authority Police Officer Walwyn Stuart, who was killed on 9/11/01. Zechariah and his family wear their love for America’s civil servants on their sleeves, something that ironically is not common in this day and age. It was only fitting that he lead ‘Team Chesna’ into battle. Once at the start line, Zechariah and the entire team were met by Sgt Chesna’s wife and family, where they were able to see the Blue Line American Flag, adorned with Sgt Chesna’s name, that Zechariah was carrying for the duration of the race and taking with him for future events. Together, the Cartledge and Chesna families lead ‘Team Chesna’ on their 3 mile tribute run.
Rounding out the event was the moment that BBO partner, Laurie Tietjen, who heads the Kenneth Tietjen Memorial Foundation run in honor of her brother, Port Authority Police Officer Kenneth Tietjen who was killed on 9/11, was able to stop and take a photo with her brother’s banner. This was the first year that Laurie had participated in the event. Being able to see a uniformed Port Authority Police Officer holding Kenny’s banner and knowing that her brother was still being honored and remembered in that way was something she won’t soon forget.
The stories of the interactions before, during and after the 2018 NYC Tunnel to Towers event could go on and on; it’s simply what happens when BBO brings together people from all over the country. As BBO Board Member and retired NYPD Police Officer Rob O’Donnell put it, “From Massachusetts to Florida, from San Diego to Minnesota, from Baltimore to New York. Today, we laughed, ate, drank, embraced and cried as one.”
If you’re still looking for the fraternity, look no further.
For More Information on Michael Chesna:
For More Information on Amy Sorrells Caprio:
For More Information on Christopher Wilson:
For More Information on Jonathan DeGuzman:
For More Information on Kenneth Tietjen:
For the Daily News Coverage on Zechariah Cartledge:
For More Information on Walwyn Stuart