Courtesy Barbara Ann Crumbacker
On the night of Feb. 19, 1985, Signal Hill Police Officer Anthony Giniewicz had come off duty and was having dinner with his wife Barbara and partner Steve Owens at Charley Browns, a former local restaurant.
When Owens left the restaurant to go home, he was accosted by three armed men who robbed him of his wallet and service weapon. He went inside to tell his partner and together they confronted the men in the restaurant’s parking lot.
But as they drove away, the men shot at the officers, striking Giniewicz, though he returned fire.
The men were ultimately arrested the following month, and Owens’s service weapon recovered, but that fateful night changed Giniewicz’s life forever.
He would never walk again, having been paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet lodged in his spine. Giniewicz died of medical complications resulting from his injuries on Dec. 7, 2011.
“Although Tony was off duty when he was injured in 1985, he quickly responded to the situation and engaged the robbery suspects before being shot,” former Signal Hill Police Chief Michael Langston said at the time. “We will always be grateful to Tony for his selfless actions serving the community.”
Giniewicz is memorialized in an art installation at the Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD) headquarters at 2745 Walnut Ave. and in signs along the 405 Freeway between Atlantic and Cherry avenues, following a 2014 state-senate resolution designating that portion as the Anthony “Tony” Giniewicz Memorial Highway.
But like many family members of police officers killed in the line of duty, Giniewicz’s stepdaughter, Barbara Crumbacker, still feels his loss deeply.
She told the Signal Tribune this week that she was only 14 years old at the time of the shooting, getting ready for school the next morning, unaware of what had happened the previous night. Her baby brother Anthony, who was only two-and-a-half at the time, was asleep alone in her parents’ bed.
Crumbacker had heard on the television news that morning that a Signal Hill police officer had been shot and was in Long Beach Memorial Hospital, but she didn’t know it was her dad.
“When I heard that on the news, I called the [police] dispatch,” Crumbacker said. “They let my mom know at the hospital, ‘Your daughter just found out from the news.’”
The family relocated to San Luis Obispo County a couple of years after the shooting. Crumbacker’s brother, John Peters, who was 11 at the time of the shooting, has since become police chief at Grover Beach in that county, as previously reported in the Signal Tribune.
Following Giniewicz’s passing– or “end of watch”– in December 2011, the family followed his final wishes and didn’t let his death interfere with the holidays, only holding a funeral afterward.
“We had a celebration of life– everyone got together telling stories and such,” Crumbacker said, adding that the chief and other members of the SHPD also attended.
It was at the funeral that Crumbacker met a woman from a national organization called Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), established in 1984 to assist family members and coworkers of fallen officers. Though based in Missouri, COPS’s local chapters cover most of the nation, with a membership of 50,000, according to its website.
“Each year, between 140 and 160 officers are killed in the line of duty and their families and coworkers are left to cope with the tragic loss,” COPS states. Its mission: to rebuild the shattered lives of those survivors.
Crumbacker said that after the funeral, the organization prepared her family for what to expect at a National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial event– which takes place every year during National Police Week– honoring Giniewicz in Washington, D.C. on May 12, 2012.
Since then, Crumbacker has become active in the COPS North Carolina chapter, where she now lives, and has participated in the organization’s annual fundraising walks at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia each year since 2012.
She plans to walk the 25-mile course this year as well, covering 12.5 miles each day during a weekend in October.
“This is my eighth year and I will be completing my 200th mile,” Crumbacker said. “It’s not a race. You walk at your own pace. For me, it’s a healing thing. I wish other survivors that have lost somebody in the line of duty [could do it].”
Crumbacker’s daughter, Marissa Lewis– who is married to a North Carolina highway-patrol officer whose department lost three troopers– will also participate this year for the first time.
Proceeds from the walk help COPS assist families with everything from filling out paperwork to counseling as well as hosting a kids’ camp and retreats for young adults and the adult children of fallen officers, Crumbacker said.
“This is all free,” she said. “This is what raising this money does. COPS feels that the survivors have already paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Crumbacker said she especially appreciates the camps for children, having lost her own father at a young age.
“All the kids there have lost a parent,” she said. “This is their safe environment, their safe haven. This is where they can be with other like children. That’s what touches me the most.”
COPS Walk also includes some kids who have either lost a parent or are the children of those who have, Crumbacker said, adding that about 50 walkers participate each year on average.
“It’s a family event,” she said. “Some of us walk in groups. Some of us walk alone and have time for reflection. […] It’s a family reunion in a way. We honor our officers and remember them.”
The trail follows the historic 185-mile Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath that runs along the Potomac River, starting at Point of Rocks, Maryland and ending in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Crumbacker said COPS provides trail support during the walk, with volunteers such as her husband Richard Crumbacker providing medical assistance.
Though often sunny there in October, it’s sometimes cool enough for Crumbacker to wear gloves and a hoodie, she said.
“The weather is finnicky,” she said. “Every year that I can remember other than last year, it has rained at least one of the days.”
But Crumbacker looks forward to the event, despite the blisters she gets, walking not just for her father– whose picture she carries with her on the trail– but other officers she has known who have died.
“I keep all of them in mind when I walk,” she said. “I know not everyone can be there, but […] I let their families know that I’m thinking about them.”
Above all, the walk is personally meaningful to Crumbacker and worth raising the required $1,000 every year in sponsorship.
“For me, it’s healing,” she added. “This is my way to give back to an organization that helped my family and that has helped other families. […] I know there’s people in the organization that I can call, day or night and I’m not judged for how I feel.”
Those feelings include anger that Giniewicz’s life was cut short, at only 58 years old when he died.
“I feel at times like my dad has missed out on experiencing grandchildren,” she said. “There’s great-grandchildren now that he never got to know about.”
Walking the trail each year is thus an opportunity for Crumbacker to commune with Giniewicz– who had been an avid outdoorsman– in a safe environment.
“Every mile is a memory,” she said. “In a sense, doing it is keeping my dad alive.”
To sponsor Barbara Crumbacker or her daughter Marissa Lewis during COPS Walk, visit cops.dojiggy.com/barbaracrumbacker or cops.dojiggy.com/marissalewis.