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Ricky J. Childers II, foreground, sorts through flowers at the Tampa police headquarters memorial Monday.
[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]

'I buried my dad and my uncle'

By KATHRYN WEXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 1998


TAMPA -- As dusk fell Monday, a clean-cut 23-year-old came to the memorial outside the Tampa Police Department to honor an officer slain in the line of duty -- his father.

"I'm still trying to figure it out," said Ricky J. Childers II, a black ribbon pinned to his white Polo shirt, "but I don't want to keep thinking about it."

But thoughts of his father's violent passing last week don't fade so easily.

"I'm definitely angry, confused," he said, crossing his arms over his tall frame.

"I do cry every day, whenever there's some time I'm alone," he said, standing before the memorial in the hazy light of the setting sun, as several uniformed officers talked to people who came to honor fallen Tampa officers Randy Bell and Ricky Childers. Both were shot dead by Hank Earl Carr as they drove him to the police station for questioning in the death of a 4-year-old boy. Carr went on to kill a Florida Highway Patrol trooper in Pasco County. Carr later killed himself.

"The main thing is I think about him and I miss him."

A floor clerk at the Seminole Indian Casino for the last five years, Childers said he lived with his father until he was about 17 and his parents divorced. The homicide detective later married Vicky Childers, manager of the Tampa police records department.

Ricky Childers II said he wanted people to know that their outpouring of support has helped the family through their grief.

"We can't ask for anything more than seeing that everyone cares," he said. "It's just wonderful what everyone's been doing."

Childers came to the memorial Monday night with fiancee Tina Jones and her parents to read the missives and see the flowers left mostly by strangers. He has been here before, he said, to the place where the public's loss and love over the shooting deaths is tangible.

But never alone.

"I can't come here by myself because I couldn't handle it," said Childers, dry-eyed and unshaven.

He stayed for more than an hour Monday, after eating with Jones and her parents in Ybor City. Childers crouched to study the condolences of first-graders, walked through the police museum and took a handful of police memorial key chains from one display. He chose a single, vibrant pink rose from among the thousands lying on the pavement and placed it on the stand inside the museum that held a photograph of his father, mustached and laughing.

"I try to look and read all the stuff the children have dropped off."

Childers said he and his father hadn't talked much about the possibility that one day the Tampa police officer might not come home. Most of their discussions about death were about logistical details such as insurance, not the emotional toll it could take.

"My dad didn't like to talk about death," he said. "When his own father died, it was hard on him."

But other officers have tried to fill the gap, he said.

"I grew up with the homicide department from when I was 9 years old," he said. Randy Bell was like family.

"Saturday, I buried my dad and my uncle."

Though Childers said he hadn't seen his father in several months because their schedules were so different, he spoke to him frequently. In fact, Childers said, the day his father was shot dead, he was trying to reach him.

"I left a message on his voice mail about the wedding plans," said Childers, set to marry next year. "It's waiting for him but he's not going to be there to pick it up."


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