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Milwaukee police work with wellness team to cope, heal after officer’s death

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MILWAUKEE -- Community members and local support groups are reaching out to the Milwaukee Police Department, and Officer Matthew Rittner's family to help them cope with his death.

MPD has a wellness team that is working with its officers. That team includes volunteers who know firsthand how to deal with a line of duty death.

"We have become way too good at something that we never want to do," said Chaplain George Papachristou.

George Papachristou

Heartache best describes the feeling within the Milwaukee Police Department as officers come to terms with losing another one of their own.

"It does not get easier. Imagine a wound that does not go away and it just keeps getting ripped open," said Papachristou.

For the third time in eight months, the MPD wellness team is working overtime; offering mental health services, peer support and faith to officers struggling to understand why.

Kimberly Wagner

"Without a doubt, it is a constant question. How do bad things happen to good people? And it's a tough question to ask," said Papachristou.

The nonprofit, Wisconsin Concerns of Police Survivors (WICOPS), is also stepping in.

"If we could take their pain we would," said Kimberly Wagner, WICOPS trustee.

Helping Officer Rittner's friends and family navigate grief -- a path every volunteer has walked before.

"My husband was killed in 2013 in Texas," said Wagner.

Kimberly Wagner

Kimberly Wagner's husband

A WICOPS volunteer stood by Wagner's side in the hours, weeks and years following her husband's death. Wagner will stand with Officer Rittner's wife through heartache and someday, healing.

"She won't always feel the way that she feels right now," said Wagner. "There are a lot of people that are rooting for her and that are there to support her."

Wagner says small gestures, like the notes, flowers and cards, to matter to Officer Rittner's family and his coworkers.

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