Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of officer Brenda Sorrels’ last name.
Broomfield spent last weekend remembering Brenda Sorrels, a Broomfield police officer who committed suicide last year, and reminding others that backup is a phone or radio call away.
On Saturday morning officers, city officials and community members met over coffee and doughnuts to leave messages at a spruce tree planted in honor of Sorrels, the first Broomfield police officer to commit suicide in the history of the department. An etched stone stands nearby to remember all officers who died.
The Fat Albert spruce is planted near the Demonstration Garden in front of the George Di Ciero City County Building,1 Descombes Drive, along with the etched stone to serve as a constant reminder to the community to take care of one another.
Police Chief Gary Creager talked about the sacrifice asked of officers who serve a community, whether it be sacrifices on a daily basis or the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.
Detective Jen King-Sullivan, a team leader for the department’s peer support group, was a friend of Sorrels’ for more than 18 years. She talked about never forgetting the day Sorrels died, Feb. 27, 2018, and how hard it hit everyone at the police department as well as those who knew Sorrels.
“I believe besides all the service she provided and all the love and friendship she provided her friends family, Brenda’s greatest legacy should be that, now more than ever, we need to take care of each other and accept we can’t do this alone,” King-Sullivan said.
Lessons can be learned from everything in life, she said, and everyone has something to teach, including Sorrels who taught King-Sulivan to appreciate the unconditional love of children and dogs; that “sarcasm is always the answer” and that “people are wrestling with demons that you may never see or know about.”
Sorrels was hired as a community service officer in July 2000 and became a detention officer in September 2001. She went on to become a certified officer and moved to the Patrol Division in January 2005. She also worked for the FlatIron Crossing mall services unit on two assignments.
Police officers fight as a team, King-Sullivan said, whether they have a problem in the community, get in a physical altercation or respond to a potentially dangerous call.
“We have each others backs no matter what. Why should it be any different if we need mental health support. No one is alone in this fight,” she said. “Just remember it takes a warrior to ask for support, so lets all be warriors in this life together.”
Since April, the department has added three chaplains, bringing the total up to four.
One of those new hires, Chaplain Steve Crowder of Highway Community Church, said he was there because one person lost to suicide is too many. The greatest battles people face are often internal and are wrapped in identity, purpose and value, he said.
While he didn’t know Sorrels personally, he knew her. Crowder shared a story of himself in high school talking about his own suicidal thoughts
Officers die at a higher rate of suicide than at the hands of criminals, Deputy Chief Enea Hempelmann said, and raising awareness is critical. While she never knew the pain Sorrels was in, she said she prays others can work through their own. She said she thinks Sorrels is in a beautiful place now with her mother and her pups.
“I wish I could have told her she was loved by so many,” Hempelmann said. “I wish I could tell her to hang on for one more day.”
She encouraged the more than 100 people present to reach out to someone, tell them how important they are and remember the “importance in kindness in everything we do.”
Sorrels’ close friend Officer Michael Deedon talked about Sorrels’ final workday — how when they and others stopped for a coffee break she was “cheery and upbeat.” She even went so far as to share advice with an officer-in-training on what it means to serve, to have hobbies outside of work and remember that people care about the work they do, he said.
Later that day, after work, Sorrels wrote a few cryptic messages to loved ones, Deedon said, and in a moment of despair took her own life.
He described her as someone who believed in the power of caring and who had an innate sense of finding people who needed someone. Sorrels had an “uncanny ability” to change someone’s mood or at the very least, make someone smile with “Goofy” faces, he said. Over the years, she helped people who have lost loved ones, who were recovering from surgery and who have a parent suffering from a life-threatening illness, Deedon said.
If the roles had been reversed, she would have helped those with mental health issues. Her self-constructed walls shielded her need from those willing to keep her safe, he said. In hindsight it’s easy to look back over the years and remember calls Sorrels handled involving “levels of pain, suffering, gore and human trauma,” Deedon said.
“Each time Brenda handled these calls she put up a great front that the call did not bother her or affect her in any way, but with each experience a portion of her mind was etched with a constant mental reminder,” Deedon said. “The mental reminders became scarred over and at one point the final mental wellness frack, removed the scars and created the point of no return.”