Supporting Heroes was born was born when two church members were brought together by a third who knew the two had reason to talk.

One of those members was Bill Keithley – father of Saint Louis Police Officer Gabriel Keithley. Officer Keithley had recently been shot and seriously wounded in the line of duty and his partner, Officer Nicholas Sloan, had been killed. Bill had watched as the public safety family in Saint Louis united to support Gabe, Gabe’s family, and the family of Officer Sloan. He had also watched in amazement as The BackStoppers – a Saint Louis support organization for public safety families – helped the family of his son’s partner.

The other church member was Eric Johnson, a Louisville Metro Police Sergeant and Director of the Kentucky Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) – an organization that provides peer support to families and co-workers of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. While the peer support provided by that organization on a national level is unparalleled, he had been consistently frustrated by the lack of financial support that was available to police families following a line-of-duty death. It had long been his dream to create a local organization like The BackStoppers to provide the much-needed financial and logistical support.

After a couple of conversations, the two decided to invite others to a meeting to discuss the vision. By the end of that meeting, the group had decided to make the dream a reality. Hence, Supporting Heroes was born.

Mission Statement

After multiple revisions, the Mission Statement was set:

“Our mission is to honor the service and sacrifice of public safety heroes who give their lives in the line of duty – by caring for the loved ones they leave behind.”

The Goals

  1. Create a vehicle by which citizens could show their appreciation for the daily service and sacrifices of first responders.
  2. Honor those in the police, fire, and EMS services who make the ultimate sacrifice.
  3. Assure those left behind that their loved ones will never be forgotten and that they, the survivors, will always be cared for.

While the group originally set out to achieve these goals in the Louisville, Kentucky area, it decided that the need was so great that the scope should be broadened. When operations began, the organization covered all first responders in all of Indiana and Kentucky. (Coverage was expanded to Missouri in 2016.)

September 11, 2004 ~ “We’ll Be There”

Capturing the symbolism that September 11th has for all Americans with respect to its first responder heroes, the date was selected to launch the ambitious venture that was Supporting Heroes. Armed with only the membership dues of the original eight board members, the new organization declared, “We’ll be there when tragedy strikes.”

Sadly, it took only 13 days to put that commitment to the test when, on September 24, 2004, Butler University (Indiana) Police Officer James Davis was shot and killed in the line of duty.

Support Services

The early focus of the young organization was to deliver $3,000 of ‘emergency funds’ to families as quickly as possible following a line-of-duty death. In the early days, it struggled to do so. Since then, the support has grown and expanded in many ways:

  • Immediate Financial Support – In June 2006, the organization extended its commitment of financial support to provide ongoing support in addition to the initial $3,000 of ‘emergency funds’ to cover a family’s financial needs until state or federal benefits arrive. Each family’s need is determined on a case-by-case basis. The importance of this support cannot be overemphasized as first responder families often experience financial stress even before tragedy strikes. Taking away the stress of house payments, buying groceries, continuing health insurance, or even purchasing new clothes for funerals can be a tremendous relief. The initial $3,000 ‘emergency funds’ payment constitutes a ‘down payment on a promise.’ It provides not only much-needed immediate financial support, but it substantiates the organization’s “We’ll Be There” promise by providing ongoing support well after the funeral. In March 2016, the organization strengthened that promise by raising the ‘emergency funds’ payment to $5,000.
  • Funeral Planning – To help agencies in rendering “ultimate honor for ultimate sacrifice,” Supporting Heroes established and equipped a formal Memorial Team to assist with all aspects of honor, including funeral planning and coordination. The team trains regularly and has developed significant expertise and assists to the degree desired by agency leaders. (An FOP/COPS team handles law enforcement tributes in Indiana.)
  • National Memorial Services – To help ensure that survivors are there when the nation honors their fallen hero, Supporting Heroes began covering travel and lodging expenses in 2006 for immediate first-year survivors attending the national memorial service when their loved one is honored. That support has expanded over the years to cover more relationship categories and additional logistical support while the families are in attendance.
  • Benefits Filing – In 2007, Supporting Heroes filed its first Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) claim on behalf of a family and agency. It has filed many claims since and now files the vast majority of all PSOB claims in its service area and has filed or assisted with filing PSOB claims in 17 other states. Supporting Heroes also assists with filing for state benefits but with less frequency.
  • Trial Support – Protracted court proceedings often follow deaths of public safety heroes – particularly when the death occurred feloniously. When that is the case, families often face overwhelming financial burdens during the proceedings – loss of income; lodging and meal expenses; transportation; childcare; and more. Supporting Heroes provides financial and other support to help take those burdens away.
  • Social Events & Peer Support – In an effort to bring survivors together to form lasting supportive relationships, Supporting Heroes hosts events to bring Police, Fire, and EMS survivors together.

Unfortunately, it is inevitable that more brave men and women will fall in the line of duty. When tragedy strikes, Supporting Heroes will ‘be there’ to take as much of the burden away from survivors as possible – freeing them to focus on the things that are truly important: their family and their grief.

Expansion

On March 12, 2016, Supporting Heroes expanded coverage to include all of Missouri. In areas where an immediate-support organization already existed, Supporting Heroes augments the services and support already provided.