Peer Support Started Minutes After Weymouth Police Officer's Shooting

After Michael Chesna's shooting death, his colleagues at the Weymouth Police Department have received peer support

What to Know

  • Weymouth Police Sgt. Michael Chesna was shot and killed Sunday. As his fellow officers mourn his death, they have received peer support.
  • Dozens of peer support officers have been available for anyone at the Weymouth Police Department who just needs to talk.
  • The peer support circle is small and private, but in the group setting, one officer sharing may actually help the officer beside him.

The response on to the murder of police Sgt. Michael Chesna didn't stop with his fellow officers from Weymouth, Massachusetts, who were on scene Sunday.

It includes dozens of officers, on duty and retired, from departments around Massachusetts, and their mission is their brothers and sisters in blue.

"I was probably at the hospital within 15 minutes of the initial call to me," said Tommy Famolare, a retired Boston Police detective and a peer support officer.

Famolare said peer support, with the goal of heading off potentially life-threatening emotional trauma, starts in those initial moments.

"[It's] validating whether or not they're feeling right at the time, or if they've experienced elevated blood pressure," he said.

In the days since Chesna's death, Famolare said there has been a squad of peer support officers at the Weymouth Police Department, available just to talk.

"We've had a daily presence at the station," he said. "We've had four people from the critical incident team there every day since Sunday."

In all, 30 peer support officers will work in shifts to guide Weymouth Police through the tangle of emotional trauma.

"They're coming from Braintree, they're from Canton, folks coming down from Cambridge, we have dispatchers coming down from Newton to provide support," Famolare said.

Sgt. Chesna's wake was Thursday afternoon, day four for his surviving colleagues. Many of the officers have remained stoic. They still have a job to do.

But a wake can also be a turning point, bringing a wave of sadness.

"Officers, at that point, realize this could be any one of us. Any day," Famolare said.

The Weymouth officers comfort one another. There's raw emotion. But others fight it.

"We hold it together for so long. Then there is that split second," Famolare said. "The doors to a church opening, seeing a flag draped casket ... bagpipes playing 'Amazing Grace,' seeing the children. That's the moment that the emotion kicks in for a lot of our guys."

Peer support officers will also be scattered throughout the funeral, scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m., walking in teams of two.

"You'll see the brotherhood on Friday, but what you won't necessarily see is this group of pairs, this critical incident team," Famolare said.

They are watching for any officer in need, now or down the line.

Starting next week, peer support deepens by getting officers to open up. They will be debriefed by group, starting with those on scene Sunday.

"That group of folks initially on the scene would be the bullseye and, if you would, the next ring out would be the people who worked on the shift," Famolare said. "Now you have his coworkers at the department, so that is the third circle. The fourth circle ... our dispatchers. They are the folks that take this call."

The peer support circle is kept small and private.

"If there's eight to 10 people in a room, there might be four people on the team and a clinician," he said.

But the group setting is important. One officer sharing may actually help the officer sitting next to him.

"I've been doing this for over 20 years, and I can't do anything that amounts to the help of one officer putting his hand out to another officer," he said.

And officers from the Yarmouth Police Department, still hurting from losing one of their own, Sgt. Sean Gannon, in April, are extending that hand, as well.

"I know we've had a contingency from Yarmouth come up," Famolare said. "The fact they come up here and lend their support in an informal way is huge. The officers in Weymouth now will look at them and say, 'You know, this is where we're going to be six months from now. And that's OK.'"

A bill that would allow peer support to remain confidential and encourage more to step up for help is moving forward at the State House.

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