It’s not how they DIED that made them heroes, it’s how they LIVED
By Valarie Velazquez-Stetz
Vince Gibson tells the story of his younger brother, Philadelphia Det. Joseph Gibson #8105. Vince has been fighting for his brother’s honor ever since he took his own life on 12/26/2010. Joseph grew up with a great family with 3 older brothers, Charlie, Vince, and Mark. His parents raised their boys to the best of their ability. His father was a WWII Army veteran, who passed away from cancer when Joseph was just 8 years old. Some of his father’s last words to Joseph was that he loved him and that he needed to take care of his mother in his absence.
The family all worked hard, including Joseph, in the restaurant business in South Philly; however, he eventually applied for the Philadelphia PD and took the Civil Service exam. After achieving a high score on the exam, he was accepted into the academy, where he did very well and went on to graduate in 1996. His family was very proud of this accomplishment. Unfortunately, the next major death in his family was in 1998, when his older brother Mark was killed in an automobile accident. The entire family was shocked by this, and Joseph took it really hard. He tried to continue with his life by working hard as usual. As an officer, Joseph made many arrests and was dedicated to his profession, which led to him being promoted to detective in South Philly. Another tragedy struck the Gibson family when Betty Gibson, Joseph’s beloved mother, died in 2010. Once again, Joseph was faced with another traumatic event. However, he continued to stay busy at work, attended car shows, and most importantly spent time with his brothers.
Joseph went on to marry and after approximately 6 years, his wife became very ill and passed away in 2009. At this point, Joseph became very depressed and he couldn’t figure out why all the people he loved the most were taken away from him. He was not aware that he had PTSD, due to the tragedies on the job and in his personal life. Neither his family nor his brothers and sisters in blue realized the pain Joseph was in, because like most officers, he wasn’t one to talk about his problems.
Despite his feelings of depression, he continued working and trying to carry on as if everything was OK. At one point, Joseph did mention to his brother Vince that he sort of understood why officers commit suicide. Vince did not think anything of it and the conversation ended.
The day after Christmas, Joseph was assigned to work; however, on that cold December 26th, he never showed up or called out. His department arrived at his home to check on his welfare and they found the unimaginable, Joseph Gibson had taken his own life with his service weapon.
Several ranking officers responded to Vince’s home to give him the horrific news. Vince was in total shock and disbelief, as he couldn’t grasp what had happened. One year later, Vince found himself in the same predicament as Joseph. He had his own gun cocked and pointed at his head, due to the unbearable pain of losing his younger brother to suicide. With the help of God, he did not pull the trigger, and rather decided to be Joseph’s voice and wanted to get him recognized, due to the fact that he did not want his brother’s dedicated 15 years of service to be forgotten. Joseph loved his career as a detective, and he did not seek help due to the stigma associated with an officer in crisis, and the fear of losing his career.
Vince, with the help of a few others, founded, “Project Blue Light of Philadelphia,” a remembrance for officers fallen to suicide. This idea came to Vince in 2014 while he was watching videos of the Police Unity Tour, and he suddenly felt there was a need to ride for our first responders who committed suicide. Hence, the Project Blue Light Memorial Bike ride was founded. Vince recently stated, “We ride to help stop police suicide by bringing awareness. 140 officers killed themselves in 2017. Unfortunately, these numbers have been climbing over the years.”
The ride this year will take place on August 11th, 2018, starting at the Philadelphia Police Academy and going to the Police/Fire Memorial on 7th and Pace in Franklin Square, Philly. This is a free ride for first responders and civilians. Those interested in participating can register at the Project Blue Light Memorial Ride Page and/or purchase a T-shirt via www.ticketleap.com. Participants include but are not limited to: Philly PD, Horsham Township PD, Morris County Sheriff’s Department out of N.J., PA Chapter Leader, Warriors Watch riders, and Philly Fire Department. Those interested can also directly reach out to Vincent Gibson on Facebook. The following is a letter written by Vince that I encourage all to read:
“Please don’t leave behind your family, your wife and children need you. Because they love you with all their heart. Please don’t, because you are loved by so many. Please don’t leave behind your brothers, sisters and parents. Please don’t because we will miss you so very much. Please don’t because the hurt will never go away. Dear Officer please don’t, I’m asking you to stay with your loved ones. Dear Officer please don’t because I also lost my brother who was a police officer, who I lost to suicide. Dear Officer please don’t leave your loved ones behind because the pain is too much to deal with every day. DEAR OFFICER, PLEASE DON’T.”
Valerie A. Stetz (Velazquez) retired on accidental disability from the Jersey City Police Dept. She was injured in a radio car accident responding to a robbery in progress call. Valerie is a member of the NJ Police Honor Legion. She is the radio host for the popular Internet show “Your World Uncensored” on DDV RADIO. She is also the Public Relations Manager for NJ Blue Now Magazine. Valerie is married, with a son and daughter.