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Celebrating 40 years of healing and honor: How C.O.P.S. supports police survivors

Molly Winters’ journey with C.O.P.S. as a widow of a fallen LEO showcases her transformation from tragedy to advocacy, highlighting the organization’s role in her life

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Family photograph of Gregg Winters with son Kyle, 3, the day he was shot.

Courtesy photo

On December 28, 1990, a suspect was arrested outside a tavern for public intoxication in Muncie, Indiana. An officer, who had earlier searched the suspect, placed the handcuffed man in the rear seat of 32-year-old Muncie police officer Gregg Winters’ squad car.

Winters had almost reached the county jail when the man pulled out a concealed .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun and shot Winters in the back of the head and neck five times. One of the bullets severed Winters’ spinal cord, rendering him unresponsive and unable to breathe on his own.

Winters succumbed to his wounds 11 days later on January 8, 1991. He left behind his wife, 29-year-old Molly Winters, and their two young sons: Kyle, who was 3 years old at the time, and Brock, a 10-month-old baby.

In an instant, Molly became a widow – a status she had always envisioned as coming in old age – and her young sons lost their father. Their life, as they knew it, was turned upside down, but Molly was determined to continue her husband’s legacy.

The Concerns of Police Survivors

After Gregg’s death, Molly received a phone call from a friend who told her about the Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), an organization that supports the families and colleagues of officers who have died in the line of duty by providing resources like peer support, counseling, survivor conferences and scholarships.

Molly and her two sons attended National Police Week in Washington, D.C. in May 1992, where they heard Gregg’s name read aloud during the memorial service.

Initially, Molly was skeptical that the experience could aid her healing process but she attended a C.O.P.S. session anyway. She asked the group one question: “On the night of my husband’s visitation, a woman came in and patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘Oh, honey, it’s OK. In 12 months, you’ll forget all about this. You’ll move on in life. You’ll remarry. No biggie.’ But I’m 16 months into this and I feel like I’m in a worse place than what I was when Gregg was first killed. I asked them, ‘Is this normal?’”


Molly Winters.

Courtesy photo

An answer, provided by a mental health professional in the group, provided Molly with a sense of relief that she wasn’t alone. “The mental health professional told me it would take four to five years to fully process this huge, traumatic event and figure out what the new normal is … but that there would be a new normal.”

Molly and her sons went back to Police Week every year, attending C.O.P.S. events individually and as a family.

During her third year attending Police Week, Molly was able to give back to the new survivors: “I could finally help them and let them know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel … that they would find a new version of themselves. It would happen.”

Eventually, Molly was ready to give back to the law enforcement community that had helped her rebuild her life from scratch. She founded the Indiana chapter of C.O.P.S. and then became the national trustee, overseeing five states in the Great Lakes area. Molly’s desire to contribute further led her to serve as the national president of C.O.P.S. from May 2000 to May 2002. “I assisted survivors of those lost in the September 2001 terrorist attacks, helping them navigate their complex journey of grief. Little did anyone know, this role also helped me continue moving forward in my grief journey.”

Watch and listen as Molly Winters shares her profound journey of loss, resilience and advocacy. In this heartfelt video, discover how Molly moved from a place of despair to becoming a pillar of strength for the law enforcement community, serving as the national president of C.O.P.S. and guiding other survivors through their darkest hours.

Listen to Molly Winters recount her transformative journey with C.O.P.S., from grieving widow of a fallen law enforcement officer to passionate advocate
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Gregg Winters, left photo, with sons Kyle, 3, and newborn baby Brock. Carrie Winters, right photo, with sons, Brock, 15, center, and Kyle, 17, right, in May 2005.

Courtesy photos

Celebrating 40 years of C.O.P.S.

Founded in 1984 with just 110 members, C.O.P.S. now encompasses over 80,000 survivors and maintains over 50 chapters nationwide. Members include spouses, children, parents, siblings, significant others and colleagues of officers who have died in the line of duty. There is no membership fee to join C.O.P.S.

“Forty years ago, you had 10 widows sitting in a room … just talking and assuring one another that they weren’t alone. They realized they needed their own organization and that’s where C.O.P.S. was born,” explained Sara Sloane, an 11-year veteran of C.O.P.S. who serves as the organization’s communication director.

The planning for Police Week starts immediately after the previous one ends, typically on May 18, involving to-do lists that continue year-round, Sloane said.

“This includes deciding which officers to honor, based on criteria set by organizations like the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. For the event, we secure hotel contracts, manage transportation and handle the registration of attendees. The week features a variety of special events and services, such as a store with custom items, mental health support, the Candlelight Vigil – all designed to honor the fallen officers and support their families. This is all provided at no cost to the survivors.”

The logistical effort is substantial, involving coordination with various law enforcement agencies and other organizations in Washington, D.C. to ensure a seamless experience for the survivors.

“Our survivors are treated with the utmost respect and care throughout the week,” Sloane said. “Our goal is not only to commemorate the fallen but also to provide the survivors with the support and tools needed for healing and resilience.”

This year, C.O.P.S. will celebrate its 40th anniversary on May 14 with a formal gala. The event will bring together over 1,000 law enforcement officers, survivors and peer supporters to honor and celebrate the fallen. At the gala, C.O.P.S. will debut seven videos highlighting the organization’s decades of service, featuring founders and individuals who joined the organization as children.

“In our final video, we feature Emilio, a surviving adult child now in his 40s, discussing how C.O.P.S. has helped him thrive and cope with his grief,” Sloane explained. “In contrast, we also present an 8-year-old girl just beginning her journey with C.O.P.S. Hearing Emilio’s story and his path to healing powerfully underscores the message that this young girl will also be OK. This is our core message: We’ve spent 40 years ensuring our survivors are OK, and we’re already preparing for the next 40.”

The next 40 years


Muncie (Ind.) PD officer Gregg Winters.

Courtesy photo

Part of Molly’s mission, as well as that of the entire C.O.P.S. organization, is to reassure survivors they are not alone, and that recovery is a gradual, lifelong process.

“We have many people here who want to walk this journey with you, but it won’t happen overnight,” Molly said.

She emphasized the importance of attending Police Week the year following an officer’s death to hear your loved one being honored. “But after that, come back the next year and participate in C.O.P.S. hands-on programs, which allow for deeper, more personal connections,” Molly added.

By the third year, many survivors feel ready to support others beginning their grief journeys. “The journey requires patience and persistence, but over time, it leads to enduring friendships and an expanded support network. The relationships formed can provide lasting comfort and camaraderie,” Molly explained.

C.O.P.S. has done just that for Molly, who, even after more than 30 years on her own grief journey, still relies on the support and understanding of friends she made through this one-of-a-kind organization.

“Most of the time, I’m OK, but when I face anniversary dates, these are the people who understand and were there … have been there since the beginning with me. It doesn’t matter if you’re 30-some years out or if you’re brand new, there’s always something that you have to offer to another survivor.”

Molly’s continued collaboration and dedication to C.O.P.S. is simple: She’s committed to preserving the legacy of her husband, a dedicated officer who positively impacted his community.

“I always said that when Gregg was killed I would never let his legacy die. He was a good officer. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for Gregg’s legacy … for people to know who he was and what he stood for.”

Although the organization has grown since its inception, C.O.P.S. has never lost its personal touch, ensuring that each member’s journey is supported with care and solidarity, embodying the very essence of a community bound by shared loss and resilience.

Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of and, is the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.