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Bolland, Keith humbled by benefit for fallen officers

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From left, Arkansas Fish and Wildlife Officer Michael Neal, Duncan Keith, Neal’s wife, Donna, and Dave Bolland.

The anticipation was building. It was their first big event, and it had taken months of planning. It was for something they strongly believed in and wanted to see flourish.

''It was stressful and hectic,'' Chicago police officer Rick Caballero said. ''We didn't know what to expect.''

The event was the inaugural fund-raiser for the Brotherhood for the Fallen, a not-for-profit organization of Chicago police officers committed to attending the funeral services of officers slain in the line of duty across the United States and giving their families financial donations.

The founders -- Caballero and fellow officers Patrick McGrath, John McKenna, James McNichols and Kris Stipanov -- picked Sept. 11 for its significance. The Grand Central in Lincoln Park was selected as the venue. The Trinity Irish Dancers were invited, and so were the Pipes and Drums of the Chicago Police Department. They reached out to the Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks for donations.

The Hawks contributed a Dave Bolland package: an autographed jersey, tickets and a meet-and-greet with the pesky center of the defending Stanley Cup champions. What they didn't expect was that Bolland and defenseman Duncan Keith were going to attend.

''There were rumors they were coming, and when they did ... it just meant the world to us,'' McGrath said.

Why they came

More than 425 people, including police officers from Chicago and the surrounding area, attended the event. Among them -- mingling, taking pictures, eating and drinking -- were Keith and Bolland.

This wasn't a fund-raiser run by a teammate or another sports celebrity. It was a fund-raiser for police officers run by police officers, and Keith and Bolland wanted to attend.

''It was for a good cause for the fallen cops,'' said Bolland, who has friends in Toronto who are police officers. ''They're the people that protect us. It's good to go out there and pay our respects and to give back and help them out.''

Officer Jason Barney, who has befriended the Hawks since their rise to fame in the city, first reached out to Bolland and Keith about attending.

''They're pretty big supporters of the police department,'' Barney said. ''Both Dave and Duncan were very pleased to go. ... But sometimes things come up in their schedules.''

Bolland and Keith, though, never thought twice about attending.

''It's important,'' said Keith, who brought friends from Penticton, British Columbia. ''For us, they're friends, and it was for a great cause. Policemen do a lot for us. They put their lives on the line basically every day. For us, to spend four or five hours on one of our nights off for one of their benefits was not a big deal at all.''

Their attendance only amplified things. It emboldened the founders and made more believers out of those who attended. It also earned Bolland and Keith more fans.

''To have them come out was huge,'' said officer Michael Carroll, a member of the Brotherhood, who is running for alderman in the 46th Ward. ''We were so thankful that they came out and gave attention to our organization and to the goals that we have.''

What it's for

The idea for the Brotherhood for the Fallen came from the back seat of a Chicago police squad car. McGrath, Caballero, McNichols and Stipanov were driving to Pittsburgh to attend the funerals of officers Paul Sciullo III, Eric Kelly and Stephen Mayhle, who were killed April 4, 2009, during a standoff with a man wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with an AK-47.

It came just weeks after four police officers in Oakland, Calif. -- Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Sgt. Ervin Romans, Sgt. Daniel Sakai and John Hege -- were killed.

''We were on our way in the back of a Chicago police car to honor these three heroes in Pittsburgh,'' McGrath said. ''We thought: 'We need to do more. There is something we can do for every family in the United States that experiences this loss.'

''We're the second-largest police department in the entire country. We have an obligation to set a tone of honoring heroes.''

They were motivated even further when they saw that the Pittsburgh Penguins wore shirts under their jerseys in honor of the slain officers. The Penguins and their fans raised more than $100,000 to benefit a fund for the families of the officers.

''We got back to Chicago and made T-shirts to honor these guys and sold them,'' McGrath said. ''We are able to give significant financial donations to the families in Oakland and Pittsburgh just because of this T-shirt. ... We realized we had something here.''

The Brotherhood for the Fallen became official in March. Its mission is to send two Chicago police officers to every funeral for a murdered officer in the United States and give a financial contribution to that officer's family. Since March, the Brotherhood has been to 14 states and 19 funerals to honor 22 slain officers.

''Us giving to our own is always going to happen,'' McGrath said, referring to slain Chicago police officers Sgt. Alan Haymaker, Thomas Wortham IV, Thor Soderberg and Michael Bailey. ''It's a nationwide mission. The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation [which honors the lives and memories of Chicago police officers] has been a parent figure for us. They're an absolute idol that we look up to for our organization.''

There are about 100 police officers in the Brotherhood, and members pay $25 in monthly dues to offset travel costs. The organization also has contributors who aren't traveling members.

The organization had held events in the past, but nothing like the one Sept. 11 at Grand Central. Support has grown since, and police officers from New York City, Minnesota, Michigan and Arizona want to establish chapters.

''We're still in our infancy, and it's growing at a rapid pace,'' said Sgt. Matt Swain, another Brotherhood member. ''We want everyone to know that their loss is equally as important as our losses in Chicago. We have 10,000 that come together. We got wind that a lot of these small towns don't have anyone beyond their city limits.''

Showing their respect

There was a special guest at the Brotherhood's first major event, and it wasn't Keith or Bolland.

It was Michael Neal, an Arkansas Fish and Wildlife officer whom members of the Brotherhood met while attending the funeral services for West Memphis police Sgt. Brandon Paudert and officer Bill Evans.

On May 20, Neal ended a shootout with a 45-year-old man and his 16-year-old son, who had shot and killed Paudert and Evans during a traffic stop. A manhunt ensued, and Neal was a part of it.

About 90 minutes after the traffic stop, Neal slammed his state truck into the suspects' van during a shootout in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Neal also opened fired on the suspects. Neal had shrapnel in his back and glass in his face and eye. The father and son didn't survive the shootout. A video showing Neal's actions was shown at Grand Central.

''It was unbelievable,'' Bolland said. ''You see in movies all the fake guns and shootings. When you actually see real bullets flying in action, it's unbelievable. It was pretty crazy. For [Neal] to do that, it's courageous to stand in the line of a bullet. It went back and forth with bullets flying.''

''It shows how courageous they are,'' Keith said. ''You think it's tough taking a slap shot when you have full equipment on, and then you see things they do. ... It really puts everything into perspective of how easy our job is.''

Money raised by the Brotherhood paid for a trip to Disney World for the children of the slain officers, McGrath said.

''To me, that's making a difference,'' he said.

Bolland and Keith made it a point to introduce themselves and to talk with Neal before leaving.

''Where I'm from in Arkansas, we don't get to meet a lot of famous people or pro athletes,'' said Neal, who now considers himself a Hawks fan. ''They were so friendly and so nice. It was unbelievable. I didn't really expect them to be as nice as they were. Even before they left, they came and found me and talked to me and told me bye and everything.

''These are pro athletes. They could have just gone out the door and not said a word to me. I would have never known the difference. For them to come find me, talk to me and say bye to me was very impressive. I was extremely impressed with those guys. Their professionalism was unbelievable. I can't say enough. I was super-shocked.

''We talked about some hockey. We talked about the Cup. [Keith] told me he got seven teeth knocked out. That was pretty neat. At least he got some pretty teeth out of it. ... I'd like to tell those Blackhawk guys that I really appreciate it. They don't know what it meant to me.''

But this isn't about Bolland or Keith.

''We wanted to say thank you,'' Keith said. ''What he did was courageous.''