ST. LOUIS (KTVI) — This year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Missouri police officer Robert Stanze. His family had planned to honor him in the nation’s capital this month until they were hit by COVID-19.
Stanze was shot and killed in north St. Louis in August 2000 by a suspect who was handcuffed in his police cruiser but had a hidden handgun. Stanze was 29.
For two years, his family had been planning a trip to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., for Police Week events in May.
Stanze’s oldest son, Will, was to ride his bike 250 miles from New Jersey and meet the rest of his family there.
But Will and his mom, Michelle Stanze, both tested positive for COVID-19 in April. They are now out of isolation, but missing Police Week has been quite a blow.
“I’ve looked forward to it for a long time,” Will Stanze said.
Reflecting on the effect of her husband’s death on their children, Michelle Stanze said: “The loss becomes more the older they get. I feel like they really need this at this time of their life.”
Will Stanze was just 16 months old and Michelle Stanze was pregnant with twins, John and Holly, who went off to college last fall.
It’s been 11 years since they were at the memorial together. Officer Stanze’s three children remember the candlelight vigil. They remember his name on the wall. Mostly, they remember feeling connected to him.
“It’s just like a way (that) he’s still here. He’s still watching us … (and) being with him,” said his daughter, Holly.
“Last year was a really, really, difficult year for me,” Michelle Stanze said. “It brought up a lot of delayed grief issues, and I really reached out to the people I had met through my COPS program.”
Those COPS programs have bonded her and her kids to the families of other fallen officers through camps and activities since she lost her husband. Will Stanze’s ride would have raised money for the COPS programs.
“Even thinking about the ride, you think about the new families,” he said. “You’re helping them as well as the current families.”
“It’s kind of like a reprieve when you just get to kind of let go, be around people, and remember that part of your life more,” John Stanze said.
“Even if I didn’t know him, that part of you is missing. These people understand that in a way that really no one else does,” Holly Stanze said.
“We will be there in ’21!” Michelle Stanze said. “Losing a loved one puts everything in perspective.”
The Stanze children point out they have two dads. Michelle remarried and has another son, Kyle.