Mike and Rita Pratt have kept a low profile.
"We don't do interviews," he said Wednesday. "But we thought we should share this. We owe it to people. They were so good."
The Pratts' son, Police Sgt. Jason Tye Pratt, was shot and killed last Sept. 11 while pursuing a suspect in Omaha.
The Pratts recently joined Tye's widow, Stacy, and other family members in Washington, D.C. After returning, Mike wanted to share what happened and the feelings produced - including personal moments with President Bush. After a ceremony honoring the memory of 145 police officers slain last year, in which Bush mentioned Sgt. Pratt, some family members posed for a snapshot with the chief executive.
"I was telling the family to hurry," Mike said. "The president said, 'There's no hurry. You take all the time you need. This is your day.'" The president then hugged them, saying how sorry he was for their loss. When he embraced Mike, Bush kissed him on the back of the neck and said that everything would be OK. "When somebody hugs you," Mike said, "you know if they mean it and if they don't. You can sense phony. He was not."
As overwhelming as the president's concern was for all the officers' families, Mike said, that wasn't the most powerful and moving part for the family. Rather, it was their renewed sense of thanks, humility and honor.
In an essay, he wrote: "We were thankful and humbled to think how much God has blessed us, even though we suffer."
The Pratts met a young widow with two children who had benefited from no fund-raisers but received an $18,000 bill for her husband's funeral.
They met a wealthy man from New York, a salesman who flew his own airplane, but didn't get to take his slain son on a hunting trip. "If you only could have seen the regret in his face and the sadness in his heart," Mike wrote. "I thought of all the hunting and fishing that Tye and I did together and how grateful I was for so many good times we had."
Mike and Rita hooked up with 28 members of a New Jersey family of Puerto Rican descent, which "reminded us so much of our huge Italian family back home." Pratt is an English name, but Mike's mother is Italian. Rita's maiden name is Agosta, and her mom was a Nocita. The Nocitas ran a grocery store for many years at 10th and Hickory Streets.
The story of Mike and Rita is a tale in itself.
Mike lived in Council Bluffs as a child, but his father became ill, and the family had little money. They moved to Omaha, and he met Rita, who lived near Holy Name school. They married, as he puts it, "when we were little kids." He was 16, she was 17 and a baby was on the way. He left high school and began selling pots and pans. "I'd tell people I wasn't working my way through school," he said. "I was working my way through life." A teenage marriage may have been a long shot, but - as the expression goes - they're at 37 years and holding.
Mike got into the fire equipment business, flying his own plane so he could get back home and spend time with the family. It was successful enough that he took a few years off when sons Mike and Tye were in high school.
As a senior at Burke High School, Tye was a fine running back, once scoring a 70-yard touchdown against Millard South. He was named to the Shrine all-star football game.
He married Stacy Flynn of Bennington in 1995 and became an Omaha police officer. His brother Mike is an officer in Lincoln.
"Both of our boys became cops and married nurses," said Mike Sr. Mike and Rita live in Valley, just northwest of Omaha, and operate a display-case business. They also own a log home and duck blind near Leshara offered for sale. The memories make it too difficult to go back.
Mike, 54, who never graduated from high school, says he was an overachiever. He credits Rita, whom he calls "the strongest woman." It is taking great strength to live with what happened.
In America, "Sept. 11" has taken on a meaning far greater than that of a date, so much so that the shorthand "9/11" doesn't require the year 2001. On 9/11, it is said, America changed. The Pratt family's 9/11 came on Sept. 11, 2003. Tye, the former running back, was chasing after a suspect when shot in the head. The suspect was shot and killed by another officer.
Two ceremonies occurred last month in Washington. On May 13, Attorney General John Ashcroft spoke at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, clutching a SWAT team medallion that Stacy Pratt had given him in Omaha last September. On May 15, the president attended the ceremony at the Capitol. In his essay about that weekend, Mike Pratt wrote of the thousands of officers who stood at attention. "Not all heroes are killed in the line of duty."
The Pratts met many other police families who mourned losses. Mike wrote: "We laughed a little and cried a lot as we all shared the stories of our lives."
Tye's 31st birthday would have been May 19, just after the trip. The family, including Stacy and her two little girls, Madison and Jordyn, as well as other relatives, celebrated Tye's life over dinner at the Millard Roadhouse. They laughed and told stories about what a prankster he was. Mike Sr. recalled a fellow officer saying that Tye had the heart of a child but the character of a real man.
The special days are especially hard - birthdays, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day. The Pratts always light a candle in memory of Tye.
They worry about son Mike and other police officers. And they take pride in Tye, who proudly wore his blue uniform.
They remain thankful to all who helped them and Stacy and the rest of the family, and grateful for the life of their son.
"Tye was loyal," Mike Sr. said. "A true-blue guy."
Pratts, National leaders remember slain officer COURTNEY BRUMMER , Staff Writer 06/13/2004
Submitted photo - Rita Pratt, (from left) Madison Pratt, President George Bush, Michael Pratt Sr. and Stacy Pratt are shown during the National Police Memorial ceremonies in Washington D.C., in May.
Less than a week before he died, Omaha Police Sgt. Jason Tye Pratt asked his father to "Remember me." Michael Pratt Sr. said at the time, his son's request seemed odd to him. "He and I had this ongoing joke," he said. "Whenever we would say goodbye, we'd say 'Are you going to miss me?' The last thing he asked me, the weekend before he was shot was 'Dad, are you going to remember me?' and I said 'Yeah, I'm going to miss you.' not thinking anything of it. And he said 'No, are you going to remember me?'"
Pratt said he knew what his son was saying but he was optimistic that Jason wasn't in any danger. "And he said, 'You never know, Dad,'" Pratt said. "And I blew it off because I thought it would be fine."
Days later, on Sept. 11, 2003, Jason Pratt, who was known to most of his friends and family as "Tye" was on duty when he was called in to assist other officers in locating a suspect who was fleeing from police on foot. During the search, Jason Pratt and another officer located the suspect, Albert Rucker, 21, of Omaha hiding in a bush. Jason Pratt came under fire and was struck by the bullets. Another officer returned fire and shot Rucker. Despite holding on for about a week at Creighton University Medical Center, Jason Pratt died as a result of his injuries on Sept. 19.
Since then, Michael Pratt Sr. has had ample time to remember his son. "People always assume I don't want to talk about it, but I like talking about Jason," he said. "He's my favorite subject." Michael Pratt Sr., who was born in Council Bluffs and still has family in the area, said remembering his son comes easy for him.
But said he and his wife, Rita, were surprised when President Bush and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft made mentions of "Tye" during the National Police Memorial ceremonies in Washington D.C.
"When U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft talked about our son, we were shocked and even more amazed when the President told the entire story of Tye's death in his speech at the memorial ceremony," Pratt said. "Rita and I were humbled to think they both talked about our son when he did nothing more or less than all the other officers did when they gave their lives to protect and serve their communities."
The Pratt's, Jason's widow, Stacy, and the couple's daughter, Madison, attended the ceremonies at the capitol in May.
It was there that Michael Pratt Sr. said he met many other families who had been through similar ordeals and were suffering with the loss of a loved one.
"We were thankful and humbled to think how much God has blessed us even through we are suffering," he said. "What I mean is, we met a young widow with two small children. She didn't get one dime of government money that was due her for three years. Nor was even one fund-raiser held on her behalf but she did receive a bill, for $18,000, for the funeral. We thought about how different it was for our daughter-in-law and grandchildren."
Pratt said he also spoke with a Missouri man who was attending the ceremonies because his brother was killed.
"He was wearing brand new bib overalls the whole time we were there," Pratt said. "I don't know if he was there by himself, but we never saw him with anyone. When I asked him who he lost, he answered 'my only brother.' They were very close. He said they fished together and fought together, rode they same school bus everyday and slept in the same bed when they were little boys. We felt so sorry for him and thought of our other son Michael Pratt Jr., who is an officer on the Lincoln, Nebraska Police force."
Even President Bush took the time to meet with families, including Pratt's.
"Yes, we met the President personally," Pratt said. "He hugged us and kissed my wife and told us how very sorry he was for our loss. He hugged me around my neck and said 'Everything is going to be OK, things will get better, you'll see. I love you."
The national organization, Concerns of Police Survivors were the primary organization responsible for orchestrating and coordinating most of the functions the families attended.
"From countless seminars to picnics and cookouts, these people know how to bring teaching, comfort and healing to people who have had their hearts torn apart," Pratt said. "The candlelight vigil was so moving, I had to leave my seat and move to the back. I met Laura A. Kelso and Steve Conboy of the U.S. Marshal Department of Justice Office. They were both standing in the back. I can't explain what happened, other then to say, they just loved me so much I felt I was with my best friend. Thank God for them. From that night on, they went out of their way to take time from their jobs and duties to spend time with Rita and me every day. They gave up their free time and family time, and gave it to us."
Pratt said "Tye" always wanted to earn his accolades and he still refers to him as "officer" just because he felt his son would have preferred that.
However, he added that the recognition his son received in Washington D.C. was a fitting way to honor him, but allowing his family to be with others who had shared the same loss, only to find a new hope in each other.
"Both of our sons have always been special heroes to us," he said. "But thanks to all we experienced, we have been reminded, that not all heroes are killed in the line of duty."
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