MIDDLETON — The night before he was killed working on a traffic detail, Middleton Patrolman Ed Couture was trying to assure his then-9-year-old daughter everything would be OK if something happened to him.
"Don't you worry," he said. "The Police Department will take care of Mommy."
Yet the Police Department was overwhelmed by its first fatality, said Paul Armitage, who was chief at the time.
"We were lost," he said. "We needed help."
That same afternoon, others touched by death in the police ranks, including Salem widow Carol Perry, rushed to bring support, listen to survivors who wanted to talk and to share experiences.
Now, about 11 years after his friend died, Armitage is taking a lead role in helping others by becoming the northeastern trustee for Concerns of Police Survivors Inc.
"Hopefully, I won't get called at all (for new incidents)," Armitage said. "We spend time with past survivors. Hopefully, that's all I'll spend my time on, nothing else."
Armitage knows his wish is unlikely to hold true.
"Just about every other day, an officer dies, and that leaves behind a large number of survivors," Armitage said.
Ann Couture said the organization helped her and her daughters. Among the most helpful, she said, was Perry, whose husband, Paul, was the co-pilot in a state police helicopter that crashed because of bad fuel. Couture said the similarities between the grieving families helped her realize she wasn't alone.
"You relate to likes, whether you want to or not," she said. "When she called, 'Annie, I know how you feel,' and she told me about her boys, I was like, 'Oh my God, she really does know what this is like.'"
Concerns of Police Survivors helps with emotional support and paperwork. Beyond family and regular friends, fellow police officers are also considered survivors needing help. Armitage said he could wind up on doorsteps offering aid.
"It may only be to say, 'Hello, here's my card. Let me know if I can help,'" he said.
Big city police departments are more likely to have established procedures and their own ways of helping officers, but small towns like Middleton may never before have lost a police officer, he said. COPS, as the organization is called, can help.
Armitage said he's seen some of the most help as a mentor for COPS Kids, which hosts annual camps for children who lost a police parent. The youths go to the Fairfax, Va., police academy, and then the FBI Academy. They, too, get to talk with other survivors and realize they're not alone. Armitage became a mentor the year after he saw how the program helped Couture's family; his regret about becoming a trustee is he won't be able to continue being a mentor.
"We're talking in the hundreds, the numbers I've interacted with," Armitage said. "The number that I've helped? I don't know. That's one of those intangibles. You don't know what you've said or done that could have an effect."
Yet Armitage said he knows the effectiveness of COPS' efforts because of the help other survivors gave him when he lost his friend. He's also seen other survivors get help.
"What I find most rewarding — I've dealt mostly with kids 6, 7 years old — is when one youngster reaches out to another and comforts them, sometimes without realizing it," Armitage said.
Ann Couture said her husband would be embarrassed by the attention given by COPS, the Middleton Police Department and the town itself. But together the support has helped Ann Couture raise two girls to be well-grounded and successful. One girl graduated college with honors; the other is in college now. Ann Couture thinks her daughters will become volunteers for the COPS Kids program as soon as they're able.
"Eleven years later, Ed's still blushing, but I believe he's very proud of his daughters," Ann Couture said.
Armitage doesn't let the memory of his friend go far. Though he retired last year, Armitage still carries around pins honoring Ed Couture, who posthumously received the sergeant's stripes he had already qualified for.