A year cannot heal slain officer's family
By AMY HERDY, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- It has been a year since Tampa police Officer Lois Marrero was killed, but to those who loved her it seems much less.
"There is no healing. There is no closure," said her sister, Brenda Marrero. "You just have to find a new normal."
Finding that place is complicated.
Since her death at the hands of a fleeing bank robber on July 6, 2001, Lois Marrero has been portrayed publicly in several ways: as a fearless and devoted police officer; as a loyal daughter, sister and godmother; and as the longtime domestic partner of Mickie Mashburn, a fellow police officer who set off ripples of controversy by applying for Marrero's state and federal pension death benefits.
These benefits are typically awarded only to legal spouses or the person's estate. Because Marrero, 40, did not leave a will, her state benefits were awarded to her estate; in effect, to her parents. Mashburn is appealing that decision, and her attorney says she has not heard back from federal officials.
The focus on Marrero's sexual orientation has frustrated her family.
"What it has done is continue to highlight the fact that people who are using her name, and her loss, are trying to retrofit her to be whatever is useful for their cause," Brenda Marrero said.
"Instead of remembering her for who she was, and what her guiding principles were. ... That's the Lois that's been lost in the media, and that's what hurts. It's almost as if we sit back and shake our heads and think, 'You're missing the best part of her.' The fact that she was a lesbian is insignificant in relation to who she was as a person."
Her colleagues at the Tampa Police Department remember Lois Marrero the person.
"Her smile, her huge heart, is tremendously missed," said Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin.
Officer Marilyn Lee, a classmate of Marrero's at the police academy, said Marrero was a driving force right from the start.
"She motivated people," Lee recalled. "She would coax you along, to make sure everybody made it through."
For those on her squad, "life has not been the same since," said Officer Dave Shepler. "She is sorely missed."
This fall, the painful circumstances of Marrero's death will be recalled with the trial of the woman accused of assisting in her murder. Paula Gutierrez, 24, is charged with helping her boyfriend, Nester DeJesus, rob a Bank of America in South Tampa and then helping him kill Marrero in a nearby parking lot.
Although she did not fire the shots that killed Marrero, Gutierrez could receive life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. DeJesus killed himself after a standoff.
The hardest part of the past year, Brenda Marrero said, has been "not having Lois."
"We've all caught ourselves -- my mom, my dad and me -- picking up the phone to call her."
And it has been painful, Brenda Marrero said, explaining all this to her 3-year-old daughter.
For Mashburn, Marrero's death has been doubly significant, said Mashburn's attorney, Karen Doering.
Not only did Mashburn lose a life partner, Doering said, she experienced first-hand the bias against anyone in a nontraditional relationship when she was not allowed to claim Marrero's pension death benefits.
"I think it is important to show this is a classic example of what has happened all over the country," Doering said.
Mashburn's efforts to claim Marrero's benefits was opposed by the slain officer's family, but not because of sexual orientation . Instead, Marrero's family claimed that she was not happy with Mashburn and had fallen in love with another woman.
Mashburn remains undeterred, Doering said. "She knows she and Lois were life partners, soul mates up to the day Lois died. She's going to do whatever it takes to honor Lois' memory by trying to change the laws."
Brenda Marrero says that is not the way her sister would have wanted to be remembered.
"When you look back at the contributions other fallen officers have made, we never focus on their sexual orientation," Brenda Marrero said. "She wasn't just a police officer. She was extremely dedicated to what she did. She was passionate about what she did. She was relentless."
-- Amy Herdy can be reached at 226-3386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A memorial for Lois Marrero will be held Monday, at 6:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church on N Florida Avenue in Tampa. It is open to the public. "We hope anyone who wants to remember Lois will come," said Brenda Marrero, Lois' sister.
In addition, a police color guard will be on hand this morning for a tribute to Marrero at Raymond James Stadium as part of PrideRally, an event during Gay Pride Week.
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