Witnessing at Her Own Funeral

At the funeral of murder victim Vicky Armel, a Fairfax County cop, attendees heard the taped speech Armel gave about her decision to follow Jesus Christ. Even months since her death, Armel's testimony is still changing her community.


NORTHERN VIRGINIA - It was a crime that shocked and saddened residents living around the nation's capitol: two police officers gunned down and killed in an ambush at a police station in suburban Washington, D.C. But as tragic and painful an ordeal as it was, it's apparently sparked a religious awakening for hundreds in the area. It was a day that started like any other. Forty-year-old Vicky Armel went to work, as usual, at her police station. What would happen hours later, no one ever expected. "Vicky, the aggressive detective, was the one who said to our boss, 'Hey, there's been a couple of carjackings. Are we going to go out and look for it?' I'm (Mike) 15 seconds behind her," recalled Detective Mike Motafches of the Fairfax County Virginia Police Department. As they headed out to do their jobs, Detective Armel and Master Officer Michael Garbarino were fatally shot in the parking lot of the police station, ambushed by an 18-year-old gunman armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, five handguns, and a hunting rifle. Armel was the first officer to be killed in the line of duty in the department's nearly 70-year history. The news shocked many around the region and drew the community's show of support in a makeshift memorial at the police station—and even more at her funeral. Police estimate that anywhere between 7,000 to 10,000 people paid their final respects at Detective Armel's funeral, many of them law enforcement officers from around the country, in town for National Law Enforcement Memorial Week. Grieving friends and family came to mourn the woman they describe as well-liked and respected, kind, creative, and often candid about what she was thinking. They thought they would never hear from her again. But they were wrong. Imagine the emotions when they heard these words: "My name is Vicky Armel, and if you told me last year that I'd be standing in front of hundreds of people talking about Jesus Christ, I’d say you're crazy." During the service, the packed auditorium listened to a recorded speech that Vicky gave last year, recounting how she came to make one of the biggest decisions of her life: to become a Christian. Vicky's faith journey started two years before, with her friend and partner Mike Motafches. "We knew it was going to be a long day on our investigation out in Maryland, Mike said, and she said, ‘You have the whole day to convince me that this Christianity stuff is true or God exists. I'm your audience for the next five hours.’” But as a detective always examining the facts, Vicki wasn’t an easy sell. A veteran law enforcement officer of 16 years, she had the toughest time accepting the Bible's claim that Jesus rose from the dead. "I have gone to those homicides and suicides, and never once did that dead person get up in three days. I could not even entertain the idea of the resurrection of Jesus,” she explained in her recorded speech. "I know that it was very difficult, and I know the resurrection was a big part of her skepticism,” said Vicky's husband, Tyler, also with the Fairfax County Police Department. “If I had to pinpoint one issue, that was probably the biggest one. And that's why she liked that book so much." That book was The Case for Easter. Thousands of copies were passed out at Vicky's funeral. In it, author Lee Strobel set out to write a book debunking Christianity. Instead, he wound up becoming a believer himself. Vicky, an avowed agnostic, was compelled by what she read. She made a decision to give her life to Jesus Christ and joined a church. "Like anything else she did, she jumped in with both feet and came to the conclusion herself that she needed to follow Christ," Tyler said. He also says that Vicky’s decision gave her peace, as well as more patience in dealing with him and their two young children. And now, her journey from skeptic to baptized believer is still having an impact on others, even months after her death. Vicky’s taped recording continued, "The reason why I came…is because there's probably a Vicky or Victor out there." “People are making radical life changes, many of them turning back their lives to Jesus Christ,” said Mark Jenkins, Vicky's pastor. “They're all used to a pastor saying things about God, saying things about faith, meaning to rethink life. Not too many people are used to going to a funeral and hearing the person they're there to mourn and grieve." Since the funeral, Vicky's church has received phone calls and e-mails from people all over northern Virginia, including some who knew her well and others who didn't know her at all. “Some people just walked off the street,” Jenkins said. “They walked in and said, ‘We want what Vicky had.’ That's just radical. That's not a man thing, that's God doing His work in the hearts and lives of people who had become way too comfortable, and through the death of someone they didn't even know. [It] shook them up and reintroduced them to the realities of life they had to face." Those who knew Vicky say they won't let her death be in vain. The church continues to share Vicky's story and give out copies of the book that changed her life like they did during the local Fourth of July parade. Vicky's pastor shares one message he received from someone who heard about Vicky's story. "’It made me rethink my whole life over,’” Jenkins recalled the person said. “’I know I've made many mistakes and hurt some people. I want to tell you I want to be saved. I want the Lord in my life. I want Him to know that I love Him. I'm not sure how to go about doing this. Can you help?’" Those who knew Vicky say she would be surprised at all the reaction. "I wonder if she ever imagined what an impact she made, because she was always on fire, always spunky, always assertive,” said church friend Julie Higdon. “And I just feel like she'd be up there going, 'Yeah!' if she knew what was going on down here. It was probably bigger than what she ever imagined." "Vicky didn't just save lives, she also saved souls," said Dwayne Higdon, another of Vicky’s friends from church. Jenkins said, "Because she was willing to testify, it's still leading people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ today." Vicky's story may have sparked a spiritual awakening throughout the community. But the person she most wanted to reach was closer to home— the man she married. Tyler said, "I know it caused her some concern that I haven't been saved yet…She had confided in some friends that have since told me she thought I would eventually get there, and I know that would mean a great deal to her." Tyler, now a single dad, says that Vicky's death will not push him away from pursuing the God his wife served. "There's no anger, which honestly – it surprises me,” Tyler said. “And I cannot explain it: a gift from God, a gift from Vicky? …It makes me want to seek him more, because I want to seek Vicky when I die." Vicky, a woman who wore a badge of courage and honor and picked up a shield of faith is far from being forgotten. With each look at her picture, her smile grows a little brighter, her words ring a little louder, and the impact of her life looms far bigger than she ever thought.


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