Officer Kozminski's parents reflect on his death

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) -- Seven years ago, on July 8th, 2007, everything changed for Richard and Maria Kozminski.

That's the day their youngest son, a Grand Rapids Police officer, was shot and killed.

It still isn't easy.

"You hear a siren a couple of times a day, you think about what happened," says Richard. "Do I still think about my son? All the time."

Officer Robert Kozminski was shot and killed while responding to a call for help from the wife of Jeffery Van Vels. It was Van Vels who killed him.

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"That cowardly individual who murdered our son...I don't see his face. I put him out of it. His name and his face -- I don't hear or think of those two things in the last several years," Richard says.

Over the years the healing has been slow, Maria says. "Life has gotten different. Not easier, but different."

Officer Kozminski's parents describe Bobby as quiet and humble, the youngest of seven children.

"We're just a simple, Polish family from the West Side of Grand Rapids," Maria says.

In their living room, there's a memorial to their son -- a case displaying plaques, tributes, and what he was wearing when he died.

"It's hard seeing that t-shirt he was wearing that night. And his bullet-proof vest. It's hard seeing that," Maria says.

Richard says Officer Kozminski deserves recognition for his sacrifice.

"He deserves it. He deserves the honor, even though he wouldn't want it. He wouldn't want none of this, but it's a way for me to honor our son, pay tribute to him."

Both of Officer Kozminski's parents say they feel their son's presence.

"Some people might think it's crazy," Richard says, "but I talk to Bobby all the time. I ask Bobby for his help. I believe Bobby's in heaven."

For Maria, the symbol of his presence is the monarch butterfly. She even has a tattoo on her arm.

"We would see a monarch butterfly when we would least expect it -- fly by your head as you're outside. And every time that would happen, especially the girls and I, would say, 'There's Bobby.'"

And Bobby lives on through his 10-year-old daughter, Kailey.

"She'll make a comment sometimes and I'll think, 'Boy, if you aren't exactly like your daddy was,'" Maria says.

These are the things that comfort Richard and Maria on a day filled with sorrow.

"From a mother's perspective, it's just always there. It just never goes away, it just becomes softer," Maria says of the pain of losing Bobby.

"As far as Bobby being shot, he would consider that he did his job," Richard says. "He did what he was trained to do -- protecting a mother and her son. Family."

The Kozminskis say there is good that has come out of their son's death, like the close relationships and friendships they now have with Grand Rapids Police officers and former Chief Kevin Belk. There's overwhelming support they continue to receive from the community, too, including an annual golf classic and softball tournament held in August to raise money for a scholarship in Officer Kozminski's name.


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