Instead of dwelling on the emotional pain arising from Dermyer’s death, Dermyer’s father, John, arranged to have electronic billboards in several areas of the country display messages thanking police officers for the work they do.
The fallen trooper’s sister, Lauree, meanwhile, launched a campaign to sell memorial sweatshirts, T-shirts and stickers in her brother’s honor to raise money to buy gloves, stocking caps, school supplies and other goods that officers in her hometown of Jackson, Mich., can give away to residents while on patrol to “repair the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they police.”
“We wanted his legacy to live on,” said John Dermyer, 60. “And that legacy is making the rest of the police officers safer than what they are right now.”
“And we’re not done, I’ll tell you that right now,” added the former U.S. Marine who lives in Kansas City, Mo. “We’re going to keep this going somehow, to make things better.”
Since his large, extended family “covers the entire United States,” Dermyer said he does not want to limit the effort to only Virginia, Missouri or Wisconsin, where he formerly lived. “We want to make this more of a national thing, where everybody has a hand in it.”
Dermyer’s resolve in more actively supporting police in the aftermath of his son’s death was reinforced by the killings of two other police officers in the Kansas City area.
Brad Lancaster, a detective in Kansas City, Kan., was shot and killed May 9 while responding to a call of a suspicious person near a casino. Fellow Kansas City police Capt. Robert Melton was shot and killed a little more than two months later, on July 19, while pursuing people involved in a drive-by shooting.
Unlike the Kansas City officers’ killings, where suspects were apprehended and await trial, Chad Dermyer’s killer was fatally shot during an exchange of gunfire with other troopers.
“We attended those vigils and funerals, and it just keeps coming back,” Dermyer said. “And I look up and say, OK, what’s going to happen next? We wanted to make sure that the police knew that they have somebody out here that does support them. Even if it’s only my family.”
Dermyer said he got into the habit of shaking the hand and personally thanking any officer he encountered in public.
“I will go out of my way,” Dermyer said. “I’ll pull into a Quick Trip or something, when I’m not even intending to go there, just to make sure that I can shake their hand and thank them for what they do.”
As Dermyer and his wife brainstormed other ideas, he spotted an electronic billboard while driving home from work on Dec. 10.
“I told my wife, ‘What about putting up a billboard?’ ” he said. It would be expensive, he thought, but hoped the advertising company could provide something on a budget.
Dermyer emailed Lamar Advertising the next morning, and within a day – to Dermyer’s astonishment – the billboards soon became a reality.
Dermyer said Lamar’s vice president and general manager in Kansas City told him: ” ‘We’re going to do it; and we’re going to do it for free; and we’re going to start it tomorrow.’ I mean it was that quick.”
The billboard messages began to appear Dec. 13 in Kansas City, Richmond and Hampton Roads. But the campaign spread to other cities, including Milwaukee, Denver and Savannah, Ga., as well as cities in Michigan. Dermyer has been posting photos of the billboards on his Facebook page as he has received them from well-wishers and friends.
It was important to Dermyer to have the billboards visible for officers to see during the holidays. “That would be a good time to show ’em the respect. That’s what it came down to.”
The months since Chad’s death have not been easy, Dermyer said. What would have been the trooper’s 38th birthday came three weeks after he was killed, and Thanksgiving was especially difficult because the holiday was the wedding anniversary for Chad and his wife, Michelle.
“He had the best personality of anyone I knew,” Dermyer said of his son. “He could walk up to anybody and make friends with them.”
About two months before his death, Chad, Michelle and their two children had moved into their “dream home” in Gloucester, and Chad was excited about a new tractor he purchased to work the land, Dermyer said.
After serving four years in the Marines, Chad worked stints as a police officer in Newport News and Jackson, Mich., as well as with the veterans hospital in Ann Arbor. But he viewed his job with Virginia State Police as the highlight of his career, Dermyer said.
“That was where he was heading all along. He looked at the police like he looked at the . He wanted to be the best.”