ST. LOUIS – This year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of St. Louis police Officer Robert Stanze, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in August 2000. This year was supposed to be different for his family. There was somewhere they were supposed to be.
For two years, they’d been planning a trip to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in the nation’s capital for Police Week events in May 2020.
Officer Stanze’s oldest son, Will, was to ride his bike 250 miles from New Jersey and meet the rest of his family there.
“I’ve looked forward to it for a long time,” he said.
“The loss becomes more the older they get. I feel like they really need this at this time of their life,” said his mom, Michelle.
It’s been 11 years since they were at the memorial together. Officer Stanze’s three children remember the candlelight vigil. They remember his name on the wall. Mostly, they remember feeling connected to him.
“It’s just like a way (that) he’s still here. He’s still watching us … (and) being with him,” said his daughter, Holly.
Officer Stanze was shot and killed in north St. Louis by a suspect who was handcuffed in Stanze’s police cruiser but had a hidden handgun.
That suspect is now serving a life sentence. Stanze was 29.
Will was just 16 months old and Stanze’s wife, Michelle, was pregnant with twins, John and Holly, who went off to college last fall.
“Last year was a really, really, difficult year for me,” Michelle said. “It brought up a lot of delayed grief issues and I really reached out to the people I had met through my COPS program.”
People she sees at the memorial.
Those COPS programs have bonded her and her kids to the families of other fallen officers through camps and activities for these 20 years. On top of everything else, Michelle, a hospital nurse, and Will, both tested positive for COVID-19 in April. They were not sick and are now out of isolation. Though glad about that, missing Police Week has been quite a blow. Will’s ride would have raised money for those COPS programs; no better way to honor his father.
“Even thinking about the ride, you think about the new families,” Will said. “You’re helping them as well as the current families.”
“It’s kind of like a reprieve when you just get to kind of let go, be around people, and remember that part of your life more,” John Stanze said.
“Even if I didn’t know him hat part of you is missing…these people understand that in a way that really no one else does,” Holly said.
“We will be there in ’21!” Michelle said. “Losing a loved one puts everything in perspective.”
That includes COVID-19.
The Stanze children point out they have two dads. Michelle remarried and has another son, Kyle.