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Detective's death is her loss, too

By MARTY ROSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 1998


TAMPA -- In her bleakest hours, Rita Harding clung to the words of Detective Ricky Childers.

He promised to catch her brother's killer. He promised to bring him to justice. And he assured Harding, over countless cups of coffee and Marlboro cigarettes, that she hadn't lost everything when Rick Valdez died.

"Rick's not gone. He's always with you," Childers told her.

Harding and her family returned that faith Saturday, some of the many relatives of homicide victims who dotted the Tampa Convention Center to pay their respects to Childers and Detective Randy Bell.

With each murder case assigned them, the two detectives took on the grief of family members grappling with senseless death.

"We spent more holidays, birthdays and anniversaries together as a squad than we did with our families," Lt. George McNamara said Saturday in his eulogy for the two detectives, shot and killed in the line of duty Tuesday.

Across two rows, seated near the Childers family, Rick Valdez's mother, sisters and son nodded knowingly.

They could recall the nights when Ricky Childers was there to calm their fears and answer their questions, to walk them through intimidating court proceedings and assure them he would not walk away from the case.

Earlier this month, they sat less than eight feet behind Childers in Circuit Judge Bob Mitcham's courtroom for a trial that lasted two weeks. All of their hopes rested with the prosecutors and the detective who closed the notorious case of the home invasion killer who shot Rick Valdez five times.

On the day Valdez's killer was convicted, Childers brought his wife, Vickie, to the courthouse to meet the family he had talked so much about.

Harding told her she had beautiful green eyes, and that made Ricky Childers smile.

Later, Childers, with Vickie at his side, drove his dark green Taurus past the Hillsborough Courthouse Annex. He blasted the siren once, in front of the victim's family, in a celebratory salute.

"Yea, Detective Childers!" they cheered.

His death opened wounds for the Valdez family that were just begining to heal. They watched the television coverage Tuesday of the shootings and knew immediately that Childers was one of the victims when they saw his dark green Taurus.

"We all started praying to my Ricky: Please take him in your arms. He's the person who helped us," Harding said.

Harding went to the viewing Friday night. She took the hand of Childers' son, Ricky, 16. "I just want you to know what your dad meant to us. What a dear friend he was," she said.

"I'll remember that," his son replied.

On Saturday morning, before the memorial service, she drove to the Clearwater causeway and wrote a note on a seashell: "Ricky Childers, Rest in Peace." Then she threw the shell as far as she could into the Gulf of Mexico.

"I'll never forget Detective Childers. I called him my friend."


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