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Wauwatosans, officials observe vigil for Officer Jennifer Sebena

Participants reflect on domestic violence, mental health outside Village church

Jan. 8, 2013

A vigil for Jennifer Sebena Friday drew about 50 people on a bitterly cold evening to remember the slain officer and wrest meaning from her death.

"We can better the cold, we can better the storm, because we know that we can make it through anything as long as we are here together," said Charles Walton, director of Career Youth Development and its Survivors of Homicide grief and support group, which organized the vigil along with the Peace for Change Alliance.

Elected officials, police officers, firefighters, clergy and local citizens were among those present in the lot just north of the site of the killing outside the Wauwatosa Fire Department at 1601 N. Underwood Ave.

"The Wauwatosa community has been overwhelming in their support of our department," Police Chief Barry Weber said. "What we find that uplifts us in our hearts was Jen was really strong in her faith. So we know that at that point when she left this world, we know where she's at and we gather strength from that."

Mayor Kathy Ehley said this has been a very challenging time for the whole community.

"We need to all share and shoulder this pain and this responsibility together, and we can't forget in the coming months that we need to be there for one another, care for one another, check in to see how we're doing," she said. "It's a very sad time."

Pastor Margaret Schoewe of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, which is just half a block from the fire station, said she saw the immediate support of the community.

"I just wanted to testify to the love that we saw on Christmas Eve," Schoewe said. "It was hard to come here to be surrounded by all of the barricades, the tape, the blue lights. We couldn't use our regular entrance…and we thought 'Who will come? They'll be afraid of the violence.' Thirteen hundred people came and celebrated and witnessed to the love of God in this community."

Facing mental health

Officer Sebena's husband is accused of shooting her, and mental health and domestic violence were themes that arose in the minds of many.

"It's a moment to check on others, to check on our mental health, because in this nation, mental health issues are running rampant, and people are turning to violence," said State Senator Lena Taylor, whose 6th District shares a border with Wauwatosa to the north.

"You never know what asking someone how they're doing (will do), giving someone a hug - we don't know," Taylor said. Protecting the protectors

No one is immune to domestic violence, Milwaukee City Treasurer Spencer Coggs said.

"Who protects the protectors?" he asked. "We all do. We can do something about the scourge of domestic violence, and I want everyone here to do it in Jennifer's name. Jennifer was somebody's daughter, she was somebody's neighbor, she was somebody's friend and, today, as I look at all you all, she's obviously all of our sister."

"It's the people who wear the uniform of their country, who wear the uniform of the city as a police officer or a firefighter, those are the heroes," Tosa Alderman Don Birschel said. "Not the baseball players who make a lot of money, not the actors in Hollywood who spout off whenever they can, it's the men and women who wear the uniform of their country and of their communities - they are all the real heroes."

Ending domestic violence

No one, no community is immune, said Alderman Dennis McBride.

"We like to pretend in Wauwatosa that these things don't happen here - but they do," he said. "And I think the police officers here will tell us that the most common form of homicide is one that happens between two people that know each other intimately, and that's something that has to stop."

McBride said the support of those outside the community has been important.

"I'd like to thank all the people who are not from Wauwatosa for coming here and supporting our firefighters and our police officers, but also supporting the rest of us in our grief."

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