A behind-the-scenes warrior: Amy Peterson-Uribe and the TAPS Foundation

Already this year we’ve lost 14 American law enforcement officers in the line of duty. All of these heroes left behind devastated family members — spouses, partners, siblings, parents, and of course, children.

Amy Peterson-Uribe knows what it’s like to be one of those left to pick up the pieces.

On May 10th, 2005 at 11 a.m. Amy was at home napping after working the night shift at the Phoenix (Ariz.) Children’s Hospital when the phone rang. It was her husband Adam, a second-generation Phoenix police officer, who was currently on duty.

“I think dad has been shot.”

You’re Just in Limbo
Adam’s father, veteran PPD Officer David C. Uribe had been shot in the head after making a traffic stop. As news of the shooting hit the air, Adam had been unable to reach his father on the phone and feared the worst. As his commander pulled up next to him, his worst fears were realized. Adam hung up the phone, Amy quickly dressed and a family friend came to the house to pick her up.

Arriving at the hospital, Amy remembers walking a gauntlet of other officers and their family members before coming to the bedside of her father-in-law. She stood with the rest of the Uribe family as they circled David’s bed, knowing that their patriarch would not recover. Officer David Uribe was taken off of life support and pronounced dead three hours later.

David Uribe, whom Amy still calls “Dad,” was buried with full honors and then the family was left to grieve and somehow resume their “normal” lives. Amy, a military veteran and mother of three, channeled her grief into dealing with the aftermath of her father-in-law’s murder. She began working with coordinators of memorial events — she wrote notes to well-wishers and attended meetings held by Concerns of Police Survivors and The 100 Club of Arizona. In May of 2006, the Uribe family attended National Police Week in Washington, D.C. and then returned home — one year had passed since David Uribe had been gunned down.

“It gets critical after the first year” Amy recently told me on the phone. “After that first year, you’re just in limbo.”

The TAPS Foundation is Born
Grief can do terrible things to a family, and people are rarely the same after such a traumatic loss. Adam and Amy ended their marriage in 2007. By then, Amy had already begun counseling survivors and working with The TASER Foundation for Fallen Officers. She was asked to sit on the CEO Advisory Board for The TASER Foundation to make sure all survivors were properly notified and their voices would be heard during events and fundraisers. It was during that year that she developed the concept that would eventually become The TAPS Foundation.

As a survivor and as someone who had already heard countless other line of duty death stories, Amy began to notice the lack of knowledge and consistency regarding benefits for the fallen. As she researched the issue, she also learned that this wasn’t unique to the police profession — fire and military had similar issues. She saw tragic circumstances where wills weren’t updated accordingly, families weren’t aware of grants to assist in such things as school expenses and Police Week travel, and so often neither the families nor the agencies were aware of the support services available. Because she is uniquely tied to all three professions, Amy decided to do something about the oversight she continued to witness, but first, she had some personal work to do.

As the now-single mom of three, Amy felt she needed to find out who she was as an individual before she could continue to help others. She also needed to lick her wounds and heal and needed to regain her confidence.

“I didn’t want to start this foundation with doubts in myself. I was constantly second-guessing my decisions. I needed to finish my own grieving.” She packed up the kids and moved to the Houston (Texas) area and began to lay the groundwork for the TAPS Foundation, whose mission is to educate and assist all first responders — police, fire, and military — as well as their agencies and families in learning about the benefits and resources available to them in the event of injury or death in the line of duty.

The TAPS Foundation — named for the mournful song that no family ever wants to hear — became an official non-for-profit organization in the Fall of 2011. Amy is the CEO and handles military and police agencies. TAPS President Felicity Rose Harris primarily handles fire and EMS agencies. Grief counseling is handled by Amy, as are in-service training seminars and public speaking engagements.

The Foundation’s goal for 2012 is to increase awareness for organizations that benefit survivors, increase the number of first responders who have updated their information and have advanced directives / wills in place, and eventually be able to give grants to the children of first responders who are in need of counseling following a traumatic event. Amy works with other organizations such as C.O.P.S. as well as with individual agencies and corporate sponsors. As she told me, “TAPS doesn’t want to compete with anyone, we want to enhance what they do and help to inform the right people.” TAPS is also planning its first annual gala — my husband and I will be there — in March.

Amy’s enthusiasm for the TAPS Foundation is incredibly infectious. She laughs easily but has a touch of that humorous cynicism typical of first responders. She’s a dynamic speaker and a tenacious advocate. She also knows her stuff. As I threw scenario after scenario at her she was able to provide answers with confidence, and more importantly, without condescension. Amy is a survivor, but she’s also a warrior, and she’s fighting for police, fire and military families everywhere.

The TAPS Foundation can be accessed online at www.tapsfoundation.com , on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thetapsfoundation , and on Twitter as @tapsfoundation , or you can email Amy at amy.tapsfoundation@gmail.com .

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