Deputy Bill Felix said anger is the first emotion he has felt when a law enforcement officer is killed.
But police officers and sheriff’s deputies can’t be bitter or angry after one of their own was killed in the line of duty, he said. Instead, officers must have empathy, sympathy and understanding.
Sheriff’s Deputy Robert K. Kunze III was shot and killed while investigating a suspicious character call in a rural area of western Sedgwick County on Sunday afternoon. About 500 people gathered Tuesday evening for a candlelight vigil at the Law Enforcement Memorial in Wichita.
Kunze, 41, leaves behind a wife and daughter.
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“Kathleen and Alyssa, thank you for sharing him with us for 12 years,” Sheriff Jeff Easter said as he choked up.
“He was just one of those men that put his uniform on every day and came out and did his job, and did it very well,” Easter said.
Felix said Kunze’s understanding for others helped him have a successful law enforcement career.
“There’s only one thing that a person can control in their life, and that’s their own feelings, emotions and reactions,” Felix said. “This is the sixth officer that I’ve lost in my career, and I’ve run through many different emotions. The first one being anger, many of them being, ‘Well the next bad guy I get my hands on is going to learn a lesson for this.’
“But the only way to survive in law enforcement ... is that you can only control how you respond, and it’s with compassion, it’s with sympathy and it’s with understanding to the people that you serve that makes a successful long-enduring career in law enforcement. You can’t be bitter, you can’t go home with problems, you can’t get angry at people, or your career will be very short.”
Kunze joined the sheriff’s office in 2006 after six years with the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office. He worked on first watch and was the leader of the critical accident team. Kunze was also trained as a field training deputy and was a certified radar and LIDAR instructor.
Kunze was called at around 1:18 p.m. Sunday to the area of North 295th Street West and West 21st Street, just north of Garden Plain and about 20 miles west of downtown Wichita.
When Kunze arrived at about 1:42 p.m. Sunday, he saw a person who matched the description of the suspicious character. Then, at about 1:48 p.m., Kunze “activated the emergency button on his portable radio,” Easter previously said.
Another deputy responded and found both Kunze and the suspect on the ground. The suspect, Robert C. Greeson, died at the scene.
Kunze was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead at 2:55 p.m. First watch was scheduled to end at 3 p.m.
Greeson, 29, was a convicted felon who law enforcement suspects had been involved in three other crimes on Sunday before he shot and killed Kunze. He was driving a stolen pickup and had a .40-caliber handgun that may have also been stolen.
“I encourage you folks that to survive, you have to have empathy, sympathy and understanding for people and their problems regardless of what their problems are,” Felix said. “The inmates in the jail, the perpetrators on the street, they all have issues that are important to them.
“And as long as you have understanding that their world is important to them and you understand them, you will succeed. Deputy Kunze had that understanding, he had that ability to connect with the people that he met on the streets, and able to show compassion for their issues and their problems, which made for a very successful career for him.”
After leading the Pledge of Allegiance and saying a prayer, Deputy David Rank read the poem “A Hero’s Welcome” by Robert Longley.
“So take your place of honor, among those who have gone before,” the poem reads, in part. “And know you will be remembered, for now and evermore.”
“I Pledge Allegiance” by Larry Cappetto, an original memorial tribute song, was played.
“And then I hear the call, and to my knees I fall, an officer is down, here in my hometown,” the lyrics read, in part. “He gave his life for you, I see the color blue, here in my hometown, an officer is down.”
A woman who said she was Kunze’s mother said she was thankful and appreciative of the support for her family.
Prior to Sunday’s shooting, 29 Sedgwick County law enforcement officers had been killed in the line of duty, including eight from the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, according to the law enforcement memorial.
The most recent was Deputy Brian Scott Etheridge, who was shot during an ambush Sept. 28, 2009. Easter said Etheridge’s family was at Tuesday’s vigil.
Sheriff Easter’s brother, Deputy Kevin S. Easter, was killed Jan. 8, 1996, following a traffic stop.
Funeral services for Kunze will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Central Community Church, 6100 W. Maple. Following the service, a procession will make its way to Resthaven Gardens of Memory, 11800 W. Kellogg. Viewing will be Wednesday and Thursday from 5-8 p.m. at Resthaven Mortuary.
Easter said Friday’s funeral will be a celebration of life for Kunze, “somebody that we will always remember, we will never forget, and will always be in our hearts.”
Maple Street from Arapaho to 119th Street West will be shut down to traffic from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday for the funeral procession, the sheriff’s office said. The public is welcome to line the streets, wear blue and bring signs of support.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer ordered flags to be flown at half-staff statewide from sunrise to sunset on Friday in honor of Kunze’s funeral.
The sheriff’s office is accepting cards and messages of condolences for Kunze’s family. They may be sent to the Sheriff’s Office at 141 W. Elm, Wichita, KS 67203. Donations may be made to the family through the Honore Adversis Foundation.
“On behalf of the sheriff’s department, Sedgwick County, Wichita, thank you for coming out and supporting us,” Rank said. “It means the world to us. Deputy Robert Kunze was just a good guy.”