The first day of kindergarten can be intimidating.
But Charlee, the daughter of slain Akron police officer Justin Winebrenner, had plenty of support on her kindergarten orientation day at Turkeyfoot Elementary in New Franklin.
Law enforcement officers from Akron, Barberton, New Franklin and the Summit County sheriff’s department showed up Thursday morning to escort her on her first day at school. Akron Police Chief James Nice, Barberton Police Chief Vince Morber and Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry were also present. Even the two cruisers (20 and 24) that Winebrenner used on patrol were parked outside the school.
Justin Winebrenner, 32, was killed Nov. 16 when, off duty and unarmed, he was shot and killed attempting to stop a gunman at an Akron bar.
The 5-year-old was excited when she saw the officers and gave a big smile.
Her mother, Alyse Shanafelt, grandmother Zee Shanafelt, and grandfather, Rob Winebrenner, walked her into the school building.
“I thought the officers coming out was great,” the mother said. “This is a really emotional time for me anyway, but I know they will always be there for her and it helps knowing that since I don’t have her father anymore to go to but I have all these guys standing in.”
Justin’s father, Rob Winebrenner, a retired Barberton police sergeant, said the officers showed up to support not only Charlee, but also his son.
“As a father I see Justin in all of them. … They represent Justin. They are here for him. I don’t think they will ever break their promise to be there for Charlee,” he said. “Obviously when I can’t keep an eye on her, these guys all want to take their part. It’s about the brotherhood, It’s about police officers, the thin blue line. The greatest fraternity there is.
“So many times if you drive by and see a group of police officers you think something bad has happened, but this is a good story about police.”
Winebrenner said he lost a son, Charlee lost a father, his own daughter, Kelly (Campbell) lost a brother and hundreds of police officers lost a good friend.
“The decisions we make as police officers are in a split second,” he said. “There’s an old saying, it’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by six, that’s what goes through the minds of police officers every day, these guys are going to go home to their families, unfortunately for Justin he couldn’t do that, but I’m hoping through perception, respect and awareness, people see police are good people.”
Several Akron police officers who had worked the overnight late shift came when they got off duty, including Winebrenner’s former partner, Justin Morris.
“He was a great guy. He would have been proud to be here today and was always proud of Charlee and her cheerleading, so us being here today is important because he couldn’t be here,” Morris said. “We all worked with him, knew him well and his family. He was like one of our relatives. You hear about police killings all the time, but this one hit home, because he was one of our own.”
Another former partner, Akron police officer Kevin Evans, who is Charlee’s uncle (Evans introduced Justin to his wife’s sister, Alyse Shanafelt) said the large turnout made a statement.
“The support that Charlee will receive for the rest of her life from Akron police and all of the departments is something she should probably get used to because we are always going to be here during special events like today and throughout her life from this point on,” he said. “We’ve learned in the police world that we need to have each other’s back and stick together as much as possible. We can clearly see it meant something to a lot of people who took time out of their day to come out and support Charlee and help her into school on her first day of kindergarten, which is probably already a little stressful and nerve-racking for her, but we just wanted to show her that we’re always going to be here for her.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.