When Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Heather Timmins leaned over to kiss her 1-year-old son goodbye the morning of July 8, the thoughts that came to mind were different than other mornings.
Am I going to get home to my son today? To my husband?
If I have a target on my back because I’m wearing this uniform, then what am I doing?
People aren’t supporting us. People aren’t standing behind us.
The night before, July 7, Timmins, along with millions of other Americans, learned five officers had been executed and seven others wounded by sniper fire during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.
It was the deadliest day for law enforcement since Sept. 11.
“My initial reaction was anger,” said Timmins, whose husband also is a sheriff’s deputy. “Anger immediately followed by sadness and tears. And there was fear; fear for myself and my fellow officers.”
OCSD Deputy Christopher Anderson said the same emotions resonated in him when he learned what transpired in Dallas.
“I look at the events in Dallas as human beings being targeted. I don’t want any lives targeted in any shape or form,” he said. “When it comes to law enforcement, those are my brothers and my sisters. We are all willing to lay our lives down to protect the public.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world to feel like you’re not safe when you leave your house and put this uniform on. If I’m not safe, I can’t keep my community safe.”
Timmins, a school resource officer who has worked for the sheriff’s department for nearly nine years, questioned why she gives so much to a job that can sometimes feel so thankless.
“I just was feeling really down and sad that morning,” she said. “I was asking, ‘Why did I pick this profession?’”
It didn’t take long for Timmins to remember why she commits to putting others’ safety before her own.
Throughout the day, dozens of community members came to Mission Viejo City Hall to say thank you, drop off food and hand out notes of appreciation.
“It just completely lifted my spirits and put a smile back on my face and took me back to the reasons I want to be out there,” Timmins said. “There are citizens out there who support us.”
Anderson said although he sometimes will get sporadic hand shakes and thank you’s while on duty, this week he has been approached more often.
During a recent trip to Costco to pick up office supplies, Anderson and his partners were caught off guard by a woman standing silent next to them in the aisle.
“She just stood there at first and didn’t say anything, then she started to cry,” said Anderson, who has served with OCSD for four years. “I’m a hugger by nature, so I told her to bring it in for a hug, and she did.”
The woman thanked the deputies for their service, then when she crossed paths with them in the checkout line, asked for one last hug.
“She said it was the best hug she had gotten that day, and she hugged me again,” Anderson said. “I thought it was so cool and an awesome reflection of our community and the people we serve here in Orange County.”
An outpouring of support has been felt in law enforcement agencies across the county.
A resident who crossed paths with a Westminster officer at a local Starbucks asked to for a hug while they waited for their coffee drinks.
The officer said he also was caught off guard, but embraced the resident in what he told his colleagues was “a real hug.”
In Fullerton and Tustin, residents and local businesses sent notes, flowers and food to the police.
“We have received an outpouring of support since the tragic events in Dallas,” said Tustin PD Lt. Bob Wright. “From cards, to food dropped off at the station, to having dessert sent over to officers eating at restaurants, to several comments of support and appreciation from the public when out in the field, the support from the community has been very heartwarming.”
Police in La Habra fielded dozens of phone calls and text messages from residents who wanted to share their appreciation for the work they do, and some residents also sent over baked goods and other treats.
And in Garden Grove, two young children painted a giant sign and posted it outside the department. Over several days, other members of the community left notes of appreciation and flowers in front of the sign.
These gestures matter, Timmins said.
“Overall, I’d say (officers) feel united … and it helps when our citizens support us,” she said. “We’re proud of what we do.”
A resident left a note on an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy’s car to thank him for serving the community. Photo courtesy OCSD.