COMMENTARY, By BILL MOOR
South Bend Tribune Columnist
When John Roggeman was an all-state running back for Mishawaka High
School in 1978, he loved his blockers ahead of him.
One of them was Tom Roberts.
"Tight end, No. 83," Roggeman says without a hitch. "Tom protected me
back then, and he later protected me and other Mishawaka citizens as
one of our police officers."
So it hit Roggeman like a helmet when he found out that Roberts and
fellow officer Bryan Verkler were gunned down by a crime-happy
assailant, who also died, early Saturday morning on Sarah Street.
"I cried like a baby when I heard the news," Roggeman admits.
His dad, Bill Roggeman Jr., was a longtime Mishawaka police officer
who worked the midnight shift for 18 1/2 years.
"And we knew that every night that Dad went out there, that something
like this could have happened to him," Roggeman says. "I know he had
a gun held on him at one point.
"I guess that makes the present situation even more emotional for me."
A newly elected Mishawaka Common Council member who will take office
next month, Roggeman also has an office in the Mishawaka Police
Department in his role as the director of the Neighborhood
Prosecution Program under Prosecutor Michael Dvorak.
"If a building could have a heart, then this one would be broken," he says.
The Mishawaka community and surrounding areas have embraced the
comrades and families of the fallen officers with flowers and
donations and prayers.
Most of the police officers and firefighters in this proud
blue-collar town are home-grown heroes -- many of them proudly wore
the Maroon and White into battle.
Tom Roberts was one of them, sandwiched between brothers Larry and
Gary, who also gave their all for the Cavemen cause.
Bryan Verkler was another tough kid from down the road in the
Walkerton area. He placed fourth in the state in the shot put for
John Glenn High School and competed in the local Highland Games. He
wore a kilt and tossed around stones and telephone pole-like cabers
as if they were toys.
He could have stepped right out of a scene of "Braveheart" -- an
appropriate term for most police officers.
And there Verkler was, standing beside Roberts on that porch early
Saturday morning -- both not realizing that their lives would soon be
It happened so fast.
They knew there had been shots fired earlier at another location.
They knew that a necklace had allegedly been stolen.
They didn't know that on the other side of the door was Ray Gilkeson,
a loathsome individual who had come from California a year ago with a
long rap sheet and a hatred for police officers.
"I'm sure they (Roberts and Verkler) were cautious, but officers are
always responding to 'Shots fired,' " says one former Mishawaka
police officer who retired as a South Bend cop.
But when Gilkeson opened the door and Roberts tried to pull him
outside, Gilkeson did the unthinkable. He starting firing a gun he
was carrying in his hand, killing Roberts and wounding Verkler.
Verkler later died at the hospital where his wife was working her
shift as an ER nurse.
This had little to do with a necklace and everything to do with a man
twisted by evil.
And why was Gilkeson, with his prior arrests and known to be a threat
to law enforcement personnel, free to be out in public anyway?
Along with the anguish comes the anger. "It's the way our society
is," says another police officer. "Our courts are too lenient."
"It's the overcrowding problem at prisons," adds another.
It's not right.
Two officers are dead. A community mourns. The thin blue line becomes
a raging river of support.
"It makes me want to put back on the uniform," adds the former
To honor the men who died in theirs.
How to help:
A fund has been established at MFB Financial branches for financial
contributions to the families of the slain officers. The address of
the main office in Mishawaka is:
121 S. Church St.
Mishawaka, IN 46544
Phone: (574) 255-3146
How you can help:
Mishawaka, Ind. Mayor Robert Beutter said the city's flags have been
moved to half-staff and he urges businesses and residents to do the
He also said citywide holiday flags will be replaced with American
flags out of respect for the two officers killed in the line of duty
Residents can show support by adding blue lights to their Christmas
The two officers' patrol cars are parked in front of the Mishawaka
police station, at 200 N. Church St.
Residents may show respect by placing cards, flowers or any mementos
near the vehicles, Beutter said.
South Bend police Capt. Phil Trent echoed Beutter's comments, urging
county and South Bend residents to show respect by flying their flags