Officer Bradway's widow meets woman he saved
In an instant last September, an act of violence killed two men - one of them Indianapolis Metro Police Ofc. Rod Bradway.
What no one knew until now is that it also connected two women - his widow, Jamie, and the young woman he died while saving. Both women have spent the past five months in fragile shape, recovering from trauma, grief and loss.
Jamie Bradway, Rod's widow, is the mother of two teenagers, Sierra and Jonathan. The woman Bradway saved is a mother as well, to a 15-month-old baby. How the two mothers came together to support one another is a story of courage and connection in a time of darkness.
At least twice a month, Jamie Bradway drives to the spot at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis that she considers hallowed ground - the "Heroes of Public Safety" section. It has been a winter of grief for Jamie, who bends down and brushes the snow off the granite stone that bears the likeness of her husband of nearly 17 years, Rod.
"You're all covered up, baby," she said to no one in particular, her breath visible in the air, as she wipes several inches of snow off the stone and retrieves mementos left there by well-wishers.
"They leave coins, flowers, wreaths, and teddy bears. I even found a public service medal on the grave," Jamie said.
In the five months since Rod died, the season has changed, but in many ways, Jamie's life stands still. Her grief feels like a weight around her neck.
She speaks to Rod at the grave site.
"I miss you so much," Jamie said, stifling a sob. "I miss you , baby."
The pet dogs they "rescued" sleep on her bed each evening , but her nights are largely sleepless. Every morning at 2:00, she is wide awake. That is the hour that her life changed in an instant on September 20, 2013.
When Rod Bradway, a former firefighter, left for his night shift that evening, it was like any other night, with one exception.
"The only difference was he gave me two kisses instead of one," Jamie recalls. "He gave me a really beautiful smile, one of his gorgeous smiles, then leaned down and gave me another kiss, said 'I love you' and left."
At 2:00 in the morning, the call came in of an armed man holding his ex-girlfriend and her baby hostage at gunpoint at the Eagle Pointe apartment complex.
Rod Bradway was first on the scene. Normally, he would wait for his backup to arrive on a domestic call, but he heard screaming coming from behind the door and kicked it down, a moment etched in the victim's memory.
We have agreed to protect her name and identity.
"When he kicked down that door, he was just like Superman to me," she recalls.
But her relief turned to horror. The armed man holding her hostage, Steven Byrdo, began firing in what Indianapolis police would later call an "ambush" of Officer Bradway.
Bradway's Kevlar vest deflected some shots, but a fatal shot entered his body in his side, where the vest did not cover. Officer Bradway fired several shots back at Byrdo as his backup arrived. Byrdo died in the volley of gunfire that followed.
Jamie Bradway was numb when she got the news her husband was dead.
"The worst part was when the chaplain handed me his ring and his necklace - his medal of St Michael, the protector of police officers," Jamie said. "That's when I knew it was really true."
The funeral was attended by police officers from across the state and the nation.
It was also attended by the woman whose life Officer Bradway saved.
"You could tell from the news coverage he was just a kind man. A good man," she said. "I was nervous, but I made up my mind I needed to go pay my respects for this man."
At the funeral, she gingerly approached Jamie Bradway and gave her condolences.
"Oh gosh, I had hoped she would come," Jamie recalls. "It meant so much. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to know she was okay."
They did embrace and that could have been the end of it - a one-time connection between Jamie and the woman who owed her life to Jamie's husband.
But instead, it was the beginning.
In January, Jamie initiated a phone call to the woman and they talked for nearly two hours. They agreed to meet at a neutral site and at a farmhouse in Brownsburg, they came together again, this time to pore over photographs, mementos and memories of Officer Bradway.
"The red one is his medal of bravery. The yellow gold is his medal of honor. The purple is his purple heart," Jamie explained as she unveiled a shadow box of her husband's medals of honor.
Personal family photographs taken five months before he died were shown, including a favorite that hangs in Jamie's bedroom of Rod with his arms around her.
"He would just walk up behind me and put his arms around me like that," she said, tears in her eyes.
Theirs was a big love.
"It was very deep. We did everything together. And Rod was such a devoted father. He worked the night shift so he would be there in the morning when Sierra and Jonathan went to school."
The women embraced several times upon meeting each other again.
"She holds a lot of guilt because of what happened and I told her she has to let that go," Jamie said. "Rod had a job to do and it wasn't because of her that he died."
"It is comforting to hear that from his family," the victim said. "Every day I think about them, wondering how they are coming to their own sort of peace and normalcy and just how they are doing. I at least want to ensure Jamie knows how grateful I truly am. Anything I can do to show her that, I will do."
Jamie wears a favorite photo of Rod in a locket around her neck. The victim took the brochure from the funeral and framed the picture of Rod. She keeps it on her mantle so she can see it every day.
Jamie, deeply touched by the gesture, replaced it with a real 3x5 photo of Rod in his uniform. Additionally, the Bradway family gave the victim an angel Rod kept in his squad car.
"I carry it in my purse, so he is with me all the time," she said.
Though her baby is too young to remember what happened during the night of violence, she has resolved she will someday tell her.
"When I look at her I know that I have to tell her. It took everything within me to be as strong as I was that night. I will tell her that there are truly good-hearted people in this world and this man cared enough to be there and help Mommy," the victim said.
For now, two women joined by an instant of violence help one another through a golden thread of connection.
Their grief, however, remains a solitary battle.
Jamie finds comfort in ritual - in walking to Rod's grave and talking to him there.
"I want everyone to know how grateful I am for their love and support through this tragedy," she said. "Because it has been my nightmare."
As if on cue, as she stands at the grave, a gust of wind blows a beautiful cascade of snow down upon her.
She bends down, kisses her fingers and touches them to her husband's stone.