There’s just no doubt, the community has really come together to support the family and friends of Officer Craig Lehner and the Buffalo Police Department. It’s quite amazing. People buying blue pumpkins, putting blue bulbs in their lights, and making donations – sending cards – saying prayers – lighting candles and on and on and on.
It’s what we do. We come together to care for one of our own. Whether we knew them or not.
It’s what we do here. It’s in our DNA. Buffalo is a place of hope. A place of unity. Yes, we have our problems – but when times are tough – there we are – even tougher.
We’ve seen it before.
This entire community went blue for Ben. All that blue. I’d never seen so many people wearing so many shades of blue. We prayed hard for that sweet little boy. We rallied around a hashtag- #Blue4Ben. And when he passed away we were devastated. Our hearts collectively broke for the Sauer family. I interviewed Mindy Sauer a few months ago – she told me not only did she feel it then – she still feels it now, “You know, so much of what happened over those short three months still feels so surreal. I was aware of the outpouring of love for our son, for our family. But it didn’t seem like it was really happening to us. Facebook shows me the memories of events that happened on that same day, two and three years after the fact. And just now, I’m seeing some of the people that lobbied for support, that shared our story, that organized prayer sessions. And I feel like I should tell them thank you. I feel like I should write so many thank you notes, especially for the kind things that were expressed during that short time, but I would never be able to cover them all.”
And after the crash of flight 3407 we were one.
Those hours, days, weeks, and months later – so many people doing whatever they could to help.
Robin Tolsma, who lost her husband, Darren says that community support was absolutely a saving grace – and this, she says – feels familiar, “The way the community is rallying around him warms my heart but also reminds me how the community rallied around the 3407 families.”
Robin wants people to know how much that collective hug matters, “The community warmed my heart and soul and helped me in ways they will never know! I will be forever rooted here.”
Robin reminds us of how Western New Yorkers rallied, “People donated money by the thousands for the memorial on Long Street and for the one at the Clarence Library. The public came out by the hundreds to walk from the crash site to the airport. Everyone wore red scarves as that is the 3407 family color when we go to DC. People lined the streets to show support for the walkers too. Also, days after the crash when immediate family members were bused to the crash site, I remember people lined up on Goodrich in Clarence with signs that said “Never forget” “Our hearts at with you”. The public helped more than they will ever know.”
They sent cards, too. So many in fact, Robin says she still hasn’t gotten to all of them even eight years later – but she keeps them close, “The community made me feel that my husband mattered but that all 51 lives did. On my darkest days I will read the cards.”
That’s why Robin Tolsma shines blue for Officer Craig Lehner and why she’ll be there Wednesday – at Forest Lawn – where her husband and the 3407 crypt are, “My heart breaks for Officer Lehner’s family as they prepare for his final rest. I feel the need to be as close to Forest Lawn as I can with my American flag. I honestly don’t know how else I can show my support for this true American hero.” Robin says our blue lights should be a beacon of hope for the rest of the country.
We’re different in Buffalo and Western New York, we just are.
Community support – love – kindness – compassion – they all make a difference. They all help heal and bring peace. For Robin, that support helped her walk through the tragedy – even when taking a simple step seemed impossible,
“My heart will always have a hole in it, but Western New York helped fix the rest of it.”
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Following my heart with my husband and four daughters. An Emmy Award winning journalist lucky enough to work in television & radio for 20 years - seeing wonderful places, meeting great people and telling their stories.