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Huge turnout in Clarenville to honour Cpl. O’Keefe and first responders

CLARENVILLE, NL – When Donna Hancock first began to organize a memorial walk to remember Cpl. Trevor O’Keefe, she says she never believed it would get this much support.

“It’s just so overwhelming, the people that came on board,” an emotional Hancock told the Packet.

She couldn’t hold back her tears as she thanked everyone for helping her with this cause.

Hancock first decided to honour O’Keefe – who passed away last month after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – because his support while serving as a police officer in Clarenville over a decade ago helped her when she needed it most.

The memorial walk, called “A Mile in His Shoes”, which went ahead on Wednesday, Oct. 11 — one month after O’Keefe’s death — also honoured all first responders who serve their communities, and recognizes the toll their work takes on their mental health.

“What they face on a day-to-day basis we can never know,” said Hancock as she addressed the crowd before the walk from Kent Building Supplies to the Clarenville RCMP detachment.

“We need to stand together and have their backs because they always have ours.”

O'Keefe's family and Donna Hancock.

Many members of Cpl. O’Keefe’s family came to Clarenville for the event.

Cpl. O’Keefe’s family attends walk

Trevor’s father, Perry, told the Packet it took someone like Donna, with untold courage, to be able to organize such an event.

“When I looked out at the crowd here, (it was) overwhelming,” he said.

When Donna spoke about the important role Trevor played in her life, Perry says it didn’t surprise him.

“When I look and see the letters that we’ve gotten and the people that have come to me and said what Trevor had done for them — he just didn’t go to the scene of an accident, he stayed there to comfort whoever was in stress there.

“(He’s) a truly special person.”

Perry says his only son is gone — but through support like the memorial walk, he will live on forever.

“In Trevor’s case, when he saw all these things in his lifetime, there was guys standing by him and watching the same thing happen. Trevor is gone but it’s been brought to the forefront.

“And let’s not stop there … Let’s do whatever we can.”

He says with all the support for the Mental Health Association, there are certainly many who will benefit.

Important for first responders to have support

As an RCMP officer in Clarenville, Const. Cory Hemeon told the Packet the reason for the walk was under sad circumstances. But he hopes the positive message of getting first responders — and all members of public — help when they need it got through.

“If you’re suffering from any type of mental illness, it can affect anybody, at anytime, at any point in their life. It’s important to have support,” said Hemeon. “And you see the support that’s here today.”

He says many first responders like Cpl. O’Keefe have a great impact on their communities, and it’s important to make sure people don’t suffer in silence.

Hoping to be the first walk of many

Hancock thanked everyone who supported the event, including the first responders, O’Keefe’s family, her family, friends and co-workers, and businesses that donated. She plans to raise even more awareness in the future, and hopes to hold the walk annually — next year in Clarenville and St. John’s, and in more communities each year.

Hancock says Cpl. Trevor O’Keefe’s smile once helped her through some of the most difficult times in her life. She believes he was still smiling down as they community came to support first responders and raise awareness and funds for mental health.

For video of the event, go to the Packet Community Newspaper Facebook page.

Donna Hancock before the walk.

Twitter: @jejparsons

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