Late Montgomery County Police Officer Remembered for Dedication, Humor
Pastor, police chief say Bomba’s death a reminder of stigma surrounding mental health
Friends and colleagues remember Thomas "T.J." Bomba during a memorial service Saturday in Gaithersburg.
A Montgomery County police officer who died Monday was remembered by friends and colleagues Saturday as a dedicated public servant with a good sense of humor.
Several hundred people, including emergency responders from throughout the county, packed the Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg Saturday to honor Thomas “T.J.” Bomba. It was an emotional two-hour service that featured several eulogies, a slide show and an honor guard ceremony.
Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones, officers who served with Bomba and childhood friends were among those who spoke.
Bomba, 38, died Monday from a gunshot wound on top of a parking deck in Silver Spring. He was taken to MedStar Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he was pronounced dead. Police announced Tuesday night that his death had been ruled a suicide.
“Today is about T.J. The father, husband, Cub Scout leader, poker player, and a football fan,” Jones said. “We know he loved his work. He was one of the first officers at roll call every morning. And he was known to answer calls early to help relieve the midnight officers who worked all night long.”
Jones said Bomba, a 13-year veteran of the department, was known to greet street musicians in downtown Silver Spring and say hello to employees at the Chick-fil-A in the area he patrolled.
Jones said Bomba frequently was assigned to traffic enforcement duties.
“Normally, we know officers who write tickets aren’t the most popular guys in town. But T.J. was an exception,” he said.
Jones noted that Bomba earned a Silver Medal of Valor award from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce in 2008 for arresting an armed burglar in Burtonsville. He also said Bomba showed great strength during a severe infection he suffered in June 2009 that almost killed him.
Mauricio Veiga, an officer who worked the same beat as Bomba for five years, called him a “cops’ cop.”
“No matter what happened, I turned around and TJ was always there,” he said.
Veiga added that Bomba’s humor and tendency to pull practical jokes “kept him [Bomba] going.”
Elijah Kinser, an officer who met Bomba in 2006 when both were in training, said the two bonded over a love for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the fact that they were both “Rust Belt transplants” with hard-working parents.
“When I first met T.J. at the academy, he was strong, fit, but ran the mile and a half at a snail’s pace,” he joked.
Kinser remembered when a female officer followed him and Bomba down Great Seneca Highway in her cruiser yelling “C’mon, Bomba. Pick up your feet and move,” while the two male officers were training.
“He muttered under his breath, ‘Easy run for you in your air-conditioned Crown Vic. My ankles are bigger than your waist,’” he said. The female officer did not hear the comment.
Kinser recalled Bomba inviting him to an all-you-can eat sushi restaurant for a specific purpose.
“For T.J., it was an opportunity to show me exactly how long it would take to get kicked out. In our case, about an hour and 32 minutes,” he said.
But Kinser said after Bomba recovered from his illness in November 2009, he was never the same, and that he had been “permanently altered” because of the stress placed on his body.
“There were flashes of the old T.J. from time to time. His quick wit, deadpan humor, enormous smile shined through some of the sadness and despair he was feeling. However, his body and his brain were marred by his infection. Ultimately, it changed the person we knew as T.J.,” he said.
“It took away his fitness. It took away his sharp mind. It took away his drive and passion and it took T.J. from us.”
Jones reminded those in attendance that police officers have the same vulnerabilities as everyone else.
“We see people at some of the worst moments of their lives. In our calls for service, we see things many don’t see. And we are not immune from what we see and what we experience. Sometimes heroes hurt, too,” he said.
“While working through the problems and challenges of others, we have the problems and challenges of our own lives. … Simply because we are police officers doesn’t mean we are exempt from those circumstances that plague the lives of others.”
In an interview after the service, Jones said during his four years as commander of the 3rd District in Silver Spring, he got to know Bomba, calling him a “great father, great family guy and friend and a great police officer.”
Jones said he is committed to making sure his department works to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.
“There are things we have to continue to work hard on in trying to be there in a way that’s compassionate for those suffering through any type of mental illness. We provide some of that now, but we can always provide more in making sure people aren’t ostracized. I think it’s important for us to demonstrate that, and it’s something I’m going to work to accomplish in the coming years,” he said.
During the service, Pastor Greg Zetts said there is a “need to break the culture of fear” when it comes to talking about mental health.
“There is a need to break the culture that causes us to compartmentalize and look strong when we’re really weak. There is a need to break that culture in this department and departments throughout this nation,” he said.
Zetts, becoming emotional at times, spoke briefly about tragedies in his own life that caused him to become depressed between 2004 and 2007. He said the experience made him wish he had been more open about his feelings.
“This broke my heart this week. And I believe if T.J. could come and be the preacher this morning, he would challenge us about being real. He would challenge us about being real with our pain,” he said.
Zetts urged anyone concerned about someone else’s mental health to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
Bomba was married since 2005 to Angela Tripp, who he met in college, according to his obituary. He is also survived by his children, Tommy, 11, and Jake, 5; parents Thomas and Carol Bomba; and sister Alison Bomba, among others.
Police said anyone who wishes to donate to Bomba’s family can mail a check to:
The Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police – Lodge 35
18512 Office Park Drive
Montgomery Village, Maryland 20886
Donors are asked to make checks payable to Montgomery County Law Enforcement Officer Relief Fund and to write Officer Bomba in the memo line.
Warning sides of suicide:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
If someone exhibits warning signs of suicide:
- Do not leave the person alone
- Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK) or Montgomery County 24 Hour Crisis Center at 240-777-4000
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from medical or mental health professional
Source: Reportingonsuicide.org; Montgomery County
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org