Horses of Honor Omaha: Trail of Heroes

A salute to the fallen officers of the Omaha Police Department

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A walking guide to Horses of Honor Omaha, a public art project on view in Turner Park at Midtown Crossing through spring 2017.
1. Officer Greg Hamill / Artist: Jave Yoshimoto
2. Sgt. Jason “Tye” Pratt / Artist: Ying Zhu with Jordyn, Madison and Stacy Pratt-Laue
3. Officer James “Jimmy” B. Wilson Jr. / Artist: Paul Hundtoft
4. Officer Kirk Tynes / Artist: Iggy Sumnik
5. Officer Dawn Pollreis / Artist: Bob Donlan
6. Officer Torrey Gully / Artist: Glenda Musilek
7. Officer Kerrie Orozco / Artist: Fredy Rincon
8. All Fallen Officers / Artist: Trudy Swanson
9. K-9 Kobus / Artist: Michael Torres

Project celebrates 'one community'

A bad back. That’s what led Molly Skold to advocate for a Horses of Honor public art exhibition in Omaha.
Skold, marketing and communications director for Mutual of Omaha’s Midtown Crossing at Turner Park, was in Chicago last summer when back problems kept her from taking public transportation. During a cab ride, she noticed several life-size fiberglass horses on the city scape. Her driver explained that they were in honor of Chicago’s fallen police officers.
“It was right after Kerrie Orozco’s funeral,” Skold said. “I was so emotional about it. My daughter is 21, and I was distraught that Kerrie didn’t get those 21 years with her daughter.”
Skold returned to Omaha and suggested a similar project to Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer.
The timing was right.
“We were looking for a way to honor the one-year anniversary of Officer Orozco’s death and had a lot of inquiries,” Schmaderer said. “We wanted to make sure that the public could be involved and that it wasn’t just a one-time event. We wanted something that would last and honor other fallen officers who aren’t quite as well-known, but were also quite extraordinary people. Horses of Honor satisfied our main goals.”
Each horse required a $17,000 sponsor for the project to move ahead.
CHI Health jumped at the chance to be the benefactor for Orozco’s horse. The officer had been taken to CHI’s Creighton University Medical Center, where doctors were unable to save her life, and it seemed fitting to play a role in her tribute.
“We are very proud and humbled to sponsor Officer Orozco’s horse,” said Dr. Cliff Robertson, CEO of CHI Health. “The impact of that day on our trauma department has been long-lasting. Kerrie has touched our organization. There is a common kinship between those in health care and those who wear the uniform. It’s a bond.”
Friday, May 20 — on the one-year anniversary of Orozco’s death — Schmaderer, Mayor Jean Stothert and other dignitaries unveiled the eight horses created by artists chosen by the sponsoring organizations.
A bronze sculpture on the grand lawn at Midtown Crossing represents Kobus, the police dog killed in the line of duty in January 2016.
For Omaha’s police chief, the sculptures have the right tone.
“You don’t want to do another memorial service that is very somber,” he said. “The project brings us together on good terms.”
The horses will be on view in Turner Park for about a year, then auctioned. Proceeds will benefit the Omaha Police Foundation, which provides safety equipment for the department. “We’re proud to be a part of this,” said Dr. Jack Lewis, foundation president. “Omaha needs to recognize the officers who go to work every day and that some die in the line of duty.”
Schmaderer said he hopes the project extends even deeper.
“The Omaha Police Department is one community. The ‘us vs. them’ mentality is not something that I like, and it’s not a productive model for police-community relations or to reduce crime,” he said. “We’re the guardians for the community, and we are the community. We’re your neighbors. We’re your brothers.We’re your sisters. When the public can view us that way, and the police views the public as partners, it makes for a much better city, a much better environment and a much better community.”
Skold expects 250,000 to 300,000 visitors to Turner Park this summer. “We’re thrilled to have these,” she said of the public art pieces. “This is for Omaha and to help make a difference. We’re raising awareness as well as money so that we’re all safer. We’re given so much, and we expect so much. We have this big, beautiful park, and we can be part of a bigger conversation. It’s been a joy and honor to work on this.”

Officer Greg Hamill

End of Watch: Feb. 19, 2014
He served 12 years with the Omaha Police Department and died of complications from the H1N1 flu virus at age 43.
Hamill’s career included service with the department’s Narcotics Unit, where he worked on special operations with agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Marshal’s Office.
Hamill’s organs were donated. “He genuinely cared about people,” Officer James Shade said. “He had a huge heart.”
At the funeral, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer called Hamill a hero and his partner spoke about the countless lives Hamill touched through his big and caring personality.
Hamill left a wife and two children.

Officer Greg Hamill: 'Strength, courage, beauty'

Jave Yoshimoto is still new to Omaha. In fact, he’s been here barely a year. The painter came to Nebraska from California last fall to join the faculty of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and given his recent arrival, it was a bit of a surprise to receive a coveted art commission.
“Dean Gail Baker thought I was a good candidate. This is my first year teaching at UNO, and she felt my energy was good for a project like this,” said the soft-spoken artist.
Yoshimoto’s work, which he creates in the centuries-old style of Japanese woodcuts, addresses natural and man-made disasters and the ability of the human spirit to overcome them.
Those themes fit perfectly with his Horse of Honor, a brightly-colored sculpture dedicated to the memory of Officer Greg Hamill, who died in 2014 of complications from the H1N1 flu virus, which he contracted while serving a search warrant.
Yoshimoto’s horse speaks to a strong sense of place. Painted in brilliant primary colors, the torso includes images familiar in Nebraska: grassy plains, fertile fields, windmills and sandhill cranes in mid-flight. A bison appears on both sides. The Omaha cityscape also figures in the background — a nod to the urban community Hamill served and loved.
“Nebraska’s iconography symbolizes strength, courage and beauty,” Yoshimoto said.
Perhaps even more riveting are some of the subtle details.
Hamill’s horse is rich with symbolism, with vibrant pinks and purples calling to mind a glowing Nebraska sunset. Superimposed over the sunset is an image of a crow winging its way heavenward.
“I wanted to show the sunset, because it represents the afterlife. The crow is carrying the soul there,” Yoshimoto said. “I wanted something symbolically accessible to the general public. A lot of time academic art can be difficult to understand, but these images and metaphors are simple to understand.”
Yoshimoto also worked with Hamill’s widow to incorporate elements personal to the officer. Dominating the horse’s head is a large, intricate golden Celtic cross and Psalm 144, which is the prayer for “Rescue and Prosperity.” Hamill sported both as tattoos, and perhaps it’s fitting that his horse features both so prominently.
To the artist, the project is meaningful on multiple levels. It’s an opportunity for Yoshimoto to pay tribute to a fallen officer and demonstrate to students the important role that artists can play within a community.
“It’s an honor, and I felt it’s important to set an example for my students and show my appreciation as a teacher. It’s my way of thanking the university,” Yoshimoto said. “I think the most touching part is the fact that these horses are for fallen police officers. I hope I’ve done the project justice for Greg Hamill.” — Kim Carpenter

Officer James “Jimmy” B. Wilson Jr.

End of Watch: Aug. 20, 1995
He was killed after being shot in the head during a traffic stop. Witnesses said he was shot before he could get out of his cruiser.
He had radioed dispatch at 8:01 p.m., asking that the plate on the van he had stopped be checked. That was the last heard from him. At 8:04 p.m., 911 operators were called by residents reporting rapid gunfire and an injured officer.
The 24-year-old was found shot in the head, still seated in his cruiser, seat belt fastened and red-and-blue emergency lights flashing.
He had just marked one year on the force. But he had a police heritage. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Jimmy Wilson Sr., a retired Omaha homicide detective, and his grandfather, Walter Wilson, a 31-year veteran of the department.
When he was sworn in as an officer on Aug. 6, 1994, a beaming Jimmy Wilson Sr. pinned the badge on his only son, nicknamed “Jimbo.”

Officer James “Jimmy” B. Wilson Jr.: 'Warm, glowing personality'

Paul Hundtoft remembers Officer Jimmy Wilson as a gregarious, easygoing kid. The retired art
teacher had the police officer as a student at Westbrook Junior High from 1983-85. Stories of Jimmy Wilson still come up when Hundtoft gets together with his former colleagues.
“Jimmy had this laugh that got everybody around him laughing. It was contagious. I remember I had him in a clay class when he made what I thought was a duck. I said, ‘Great duck!’ He said, ‘Mr. H., that’s not a duck! That’s supposed to be a tiger lying down!’ ”
Those kinds of happy memories made it difficult to turn down creating Wilson’s Horse of Honor.
“It was quite a project, and I was hesitant to do it at first,” said the painter, who remembers all too well when Wilson died.
“It was on my 41st birthday. It was very shocking news and a very sad day.”
Hundtoft based his Horse of Honor on lessons that his former student enjoyed, choosing imagery inspired by Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher.
“The kids had to come up with something busting through a wall or a fence, something that involved the outline of an object. Jimmy did one of a cowboy figure poking out of a brick wall. His mother still has his artwork. She took a photo of it and texted it to me. That got me remembering that project, and I wanted to tie into that with the horse.”
To do that, Hundtoft rendered Wilson’s last name in a lilting cursive script reminiscent of the Wilson athletic equipment logo.
Painted in “police blue,” the letters seem to emerge out of both sides of the horse’s torso.
“I tried to make it look like it was breaking and cracking apart,” the artist said.
Wilson’s name is silhouetted by vibrant sunlight accentuated in brilliant oranges and reds, colors chosen to contrast with the cool blue and for a symbolic reason: “Jimmy had such a warm, glowing personality,” Hundtoft said. “It’s like there’s glowing inside the horse. It’s the police officer’s uniform combined with the warm personality inside it.”
Two police officers received an unplanned sneak peek of Hundtoft’s project before its official unveiling.
The artist was working on the horse in his garage in Blair when a police car drove by and abruptly stopped.
“The police officer got out and said, ‘Whoa! What is that?’ ” Hundtoft said. “I told him what it was for and that it was still a secret, but he said, ‘Do you mind if I call another police officer? She’s got to come and see this!’ Then I had two police cars outside the street. The neighbors were abuzz!”
Even with such humorous events surrounding the project, creating Wilson’s Horse of Honor has been highly emotional for the former art teacher.
“It’s been very difficult in some ways. Jimmy was such a great kid. It’s been very difficult. I get choked up thinking of him. This brought him back to my mind.” — Kim Carpenter

On wings of peace, strength: In memory of Omaha’s fallen police officers

Trudy Swanson’s art is rich in symbolism. The sculptor, who has worked on such prominent public art projects as the J. Doe at One Pacific Place and the “Umonhon” sculpture series in Fontenelle Park honoring the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, likes to tie meaning into everything she creates.
Her Horse of Honor, which pays tribute to all of Omaha’s fallen police officers, is no different.
Swanson chose a unicorn as a symbolic touchstone, relying heavily on mythology and cultural symbols to create a horse that she hopes sends positive messages and resonates deeply with viewers.
“I wanted to have icons people could easily relate to, and the horse form dictated a unicorn,” she said. “It’s a paragon of positive virtues like strength, freedom and wisdom. I thought, ‘What better representation of police officers?’ ”
Swanson also placed a dove — a symbol of peace — alongside the horse’s saddle and attached several steel circles onto its torso.
“A dove is also a messenger, and I wanted this to bring a message of peace and unity,” the artist said. “The circles symbolize unity, completeness, wholeness and the cycles of life. They additionally stand for inclusion and infinity.”
The sculptor further developed the peace theme with an olive garland that cascades down the horse’s mane. Twenty-seven individual leaves comprise it — one for each of the 26 police officers who died while with the Omaha Police Department and one for Kobus, the police dog killed in the line of duty in January.
Even the smooth paint job, which Cars R Us Auto Body donated to the artist, is filled with meaning. It includes gold on the hind legs and gradually becomes a glittery white.
“I wanted an ethereal, magical, otherworldly unicorn emerging from the light and coming into the sun,” Swanson said. “White is a symbol of purity and new beginnings, and the sun is about life, strength and energy.”
The artist wanted her horse to represent more than the fallen officers.
“While this is clearly a memorial, the virtues still apply to the officers serving today and to all of us united in the hope for peace. It’s really about the future.”
Swanson isn’t worried that viewers will miss some of the symbols.
“They have such extensive meanings, but still weave together common threads,” she said. “I don’t expect the average person to understand all the concepts, but they’ll still pick up on the positive tone.” — Kim Carpenter

Sgt. Jason “Tye” Pratt

End of Watch: Sept. 19, 2003
Albert Rucker had fled officers after a traffic stop on Sept. 11, 2003. Pratt joined the officers who were searching for the man.
He encountered the suspect hiding in a group of bushes, and the suspect shot him in the head. Another officer returned fire, killing Rucker.
Pratt remained in a coma for a week before his death.
He served with the Omaha Police Department for eight years. Police administrators paid tribute to him one day before he died by promoting him to sergeant.
He was known for his discipline, work ethic and sense of humor.
Pratt’s final assignment was working patrol and with the emergency response unit. His supervisor called him “brave beyond belief.”
He left a wife and two daughters.

Sgt. Jason “Tye” Pratt: Good things come in 3s

Ying Zhu’s Horse of Honor is by the numbers — literally. The deep blue horse is
decorated with a lacy patchwork pattern of white numbers. The artist says the numbers symbolize
the man they represent: Sgt. Jason “Tye” Pratt, who was shot and killed by a man who fled
the scene following a traffic stop.
Zhu wasn’t the only person who had a hand in Pratt’s Horse of Honor.
Pratt’s 13-year-old daughter, Jordyn, loves art and wanted to play a part in creating the sculpture.
“When I was contacted about the project, I was told Officer Pratt’s daughter wanted to work on the horse with me,” Zhu said. “It was really compelling. She was just a baby when it happened. What kind of memory or reflection could she bring to the project? I met with the family... and we talked about the concept.”
Pratt’s badge number (1463), the year he was born (1973) and the year he died (2003) figured into that concept. Zhu points out that they all end in the same number.
“Three is very significant,” she said. “All his jersey numbers had threes.”
The number 19 also appears on the horse. It was Pratt’s birthdate, that of his wife, Stacy Pratt-Laue, and his older daughter, Madison, who is now 16.
“I tried to tell Officer Pratt’s story in an interesting way, and the numbers represent who he was and how he lived,” Zhu said. “They are all signs of his life and his important dates. They combine and unfold to tell his life story. Stacy got very teary-eyed about the numbers. They’re very near and dear to her heart.”
So near and dear that Stacy and Madison both joined Jordyn to work on the horse with Zhu.
“It was all three of us,” the artist said. “We had a good time. It was fun to talk with them.”
Working with the family was also highly meaningful for an unexpected reason.
Zhu was struck by how much Jordyn is like her father, a man she never had an opportunity to know.
“I did research on him, and I was surprised at how much she looks like him,” Zhu said. “Stacy says her personality is very like him. She’s very lighthearted and energetic.”
Zhu also was impressed by how the family has handled Pratt’s death and his legacy.
“They have dealt with it in a really healthy way. It’s heartwarming,” she said.
That served as a lesson to the artist.
“The experience really gave me an opportunity to think outside myself. As an artist, you say ‘I, I, I’ all the time. This was not about me or what I wanted to do,” she said.
“It was about what I could do to honor the officer and the family. I was really touched by how the city, the police department and the sponsors are making the effort to remember officers who died so many years ago. We need to be reminded. It’s so easy to forget.” — Kim Carpenter

K-9 Kobus

End of Watch: Jan. 23, 2016
Kobus was shot and killed while attempting to subdue an armed man who had barricaded himself inside his home and fired at law enforcement officers.
Described as one of the toughest dogs in the canine unit, the 9-year-old Belgian Malinois had lived at the home of his handler, Omaha Police Officer Matthew McKinney.
After six years of duty, Kobus was due to be retired in the coming months.
He was the first Omaha police dog killed in the line of duty since the K-9 unit was re-established in 1996.

K-9 Kobus: ‘Relentless about fulfilling his duty’

Among the Horses of Honor, a statue representing one hero isn’t a horse at all – it’s a Belgian Malinois poised to spring into action.
Created by Michael Torres — a scenic artist, sculptor and owner of de la Torre Art Design — the bronze memorial is for Kobus, the first police dog to be awarded the U.S. Honor Flag, which pays tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Torres was attracted to the project for very personal reasons.
“My uncle, Roy, had the first police dog in town,” Torres said. “He was a black lab named Hook and was a bomb dog. I remember how close my uncle was with Hook, and imagine Matt (Officer Matthew McKinney, Kobus’ handler) and Kobus had much the same relationship. They spent their days in training.”
Torres began by researching poses and found the perfect one: a dog on the verge of bursting into action.
“The Omaha Police Department said that Kobus was relentless about fulfilling his duty and getting the task done. He kept fighting until the end,” Torres said.
The sculptor captured that fighting spirit by depicting Kobus with bright eyes and an eager face.
“The Belgian Malinois is such a beautiful dog,” Torres said. “Hopefully, this captures him. We wanted to make him a little larger than life.”
After the Horses of Honor project leaves Turner Park next year, the Kobus sculpture won’t be auctioned like the other memorials.
“He goes straight to the K9 division of the Omaha Police Department,” Torres said.

Officer Dawn Pollreis

End of Watch: Feb. 18, 2012
She served as a deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office before joining the Omaha Police Department in 1993. During her almost 20 years with the department, she worked in all four quadrants of the city.
Her last assignment was in the Criminal Investigations Bureau’s Major Crimes Unit.
Friends and colleagues described her as caring and fun as well as a dogged investigator.
Officer Pollreis died of cancer at age 47; she had overcome a 2009 cancer diagnosis.
She left a husband and three children.

Officer Dawn Pollreis: The healing power of art

Artist Bob Donlan grew up seeing a police uniform in the closet. Make that uniforms. One
brother works in the Omaha Police Department gang unit; another is a retired FBI special agent.
Donlan respects the hard work the police do, and was honored to create a Horse of Honor.
His sculpture is in memory of Officer Dawn Pollreis, who died of cancer in 2012.
“I know the human side,” Donlan said. “Officers have a very difficult job and put their lives on the line. No one likes to get pulled over for a speeding ticket, but I always see the person behind the uniform.”
He worked for two months to create a horse that celebrates the life and spirit of Pollreis. Many natural elements serve as allegories for life and death, such as legs that look like birch trunks and autumn leaves that float across the torso.
Donlan also included a glowing sunrise and sunset on the horse’s body and made the head, dotted with stars, dark blue in honor of the uniform that police officers wear.
“Dawn was a great lover of nature,” he said. “I also used a bird to represent the human spirit and the ability to thrive in difficulty. The wings are like hands — they’re healing in nature.”
Healing for Pollreis — and himself.
The painter is a colon cancer survivor who has undergone two surgeries. He finished his last chemotherapy infusion several days after completing the Horse of Honor and today is cancer-free.
“It was a shock,” he said of the diagnosis. “I coped with the stress and fear of it through art. I knew I could do this job and do it well.”
Donlan did that by taking the subject of cancer head on, symbolizing Pollreis’s illness with a pink breast cancer ribbon that cradles a female face. He thinks the officer would have approved of the direct reference.
“She was a big advocate of cancer awareness,” he said. “The ribbon is like a veil of comfort that’s giving her courage.”
Donlan also painted the words “Hope and Love” on the horse torso. He formed the letter “O” in both by using a winged heart that is torn in two and stitched back together. The design is based on a tattoo that several members of Pollreis’s family got in her honor.
“It’s a visual symbol of both those words,” Donlan said.
“In a way, her passing away from an illness that I was struggling with helped me. It put me in the moment,” the painter said. “It made me feel bonded with her. Cancer cuts through everything — all the peripheral small stuff. When I learned that Dawn had cancer too, I felt an emotional connection to the work.” — Kim Carpenter

Officer Kerrie Orozco

End of Watch: May 20, 2015
Her passion for the Omaha community as well as police work inspired the mantra “Kerrie On” after her death, a reminder to live as Kerrie did.
She had served as a Spanish interpreter for other officers, volunteered with the Special Olympics and coached baseball for the North Omaha Boys and Girls Club.
She was shot and killed at age 29 as she and other members of the Metro Area Fugitive Task Force attempted to serve a warrant on a shooting suspect. She was to begin maternity leave the next day because her premature, 3-month-old daughter was ready to leave the hospital.
The seven-year veteran of the Omaha Police Department left a husband and two stepchildren, as well as her daughter.
“This is a somber day for the city of Omaha,” Chief Todd Schmaderer said. “Officer Orozco was a top-notch individual, and the city of Omaha owes her a debt of gratitude, and her family, like no other.”

Officer Kerrie Orozco: A life of passion, hope

Fredy Rincon was the kind of troubled teen that Officer Kerrie Orozco would have tried to mentor. In his early teens, he moved from Los Angeles to what he describes as a “poverty stricken” part of Omaha.
By 14 he had begun experimenting with graffiti by painting on abandoned buildings. He soon found himself lured into gang life and felt the need to carry a weapon.
“I had a gun on me all the time,” he said. “In that world, it’s regular. It starts out because of friends, and then you get shot at. It’s a chain event after that. Automatically, you think you’ve got to go get a gun.”
That life wasn’t for Rincon, who left the streets behind and enrolled in art classes at Bellevue University.
That’s where he met his wife, Nicola.
“She turned my life around,” he said. “It was because of her.”
Rincon, 30, is the father of three boys ages 12, 5 and 2½, and works full time as a welder at Lozier Corporation. In his spare time, he paints and sculpts. His work garnered him two Omaha Entertainment Awards — one for Best Emerging Artist in 2014 and the second for Best 3D Artist a year later.
Given his background, Rincon says its a particular honor to have created Orozco’s horse, which was unveiled in Turner Park on the first anniversary of her death. ? Orozco was shot and killed by a gang member just hours before she was scheduled to begin maternity leave. ?
Rincon used the sculpture as a canvas to capture the life and passion of the fallen officer. His narrative approach tells her story through rich imagery.
For example, references to baseball and boxing highlight Orozco’s volunteer work with community outreach programs such as the North Omaha Boys and Girls Club, the Girl Scouts and Special Olympics.
“There are all kinds of little things on the horse to reference Kerrie’s community work,” he said. “She was so involved.”
Rincon also included the Omaha skyline, with familiar landmarks such as the Woodmen Tower and First National Tower.
A rural landscape on the horse is a nod to Orozco growing up in Walnut, Iowa.
Across the horse’s chest is the slogan “Heroes Live Forever,” surrounded by blue flowers symbolizing her uniform.
Dominating the other side is the phrase “Kerrie On” — coined following Orozco’s death — and an image of a young girl. The artist also incorporated four doves and each of Orozco’s family members.
Dr. Michael Wagner, the surgeon at Creighton University Medical Center who tried to save Orozco, saw the Horse of Honor in advance and became emotional.
“It’s very inspiring and dramatic and an incredible honor to have someone like Fredy do this,” Wagner said. “Her dedication was such that she made the ultimate sacrifice. This means she continues to live in Omaha, and it’s a beautiful testament to her, the Omaha Police Department and the citizens of this city.”
“Kerrie was someone’s mother, someone’s wife and someone’s daughter,” Rincon said. “I wanted to do something that was good enough for her and her family. They’re the people I really cared about.” — Kim Carpenter

Officer Torrey Gully

End of Watch: Jan. 16, 2013
A nine-year veteran of the Omaha Police Department, he built a reputation as a devoted husband, father, friend and protector.
He served as a uniformed patrol officer assigned to the Southwest Precinct. A fitness enthusiast, he collapsed during a morning workout and was later pronounced dead at Omaha’s Methodist Hospital. He was 42.
He left a wife and two daughters.

Officer Torrey Gully: A beacon of light

Glenda Musilek’s work can’t be easily classified. She’s as comfortable creating abstract compositions
in the style of the early modernists as she is painting realistic portraits more reflective of classical representations. She loves doing both, so when the invitation came to work on a Horse of Honor
in memory of Officer Torrey Gulley, she couldn’t say no.
“When I received the email about the project, I just jumped at it,” the artist said. “I was so thrilled and honored to be a part of it.”
Musilek met with Gulley’s widow, Mia, to discuss several ideas.
The artist was a bit apprehensive at first. “To me, it’s such a sensitive subject,” she said.
The two women agreed that a portrait of Gulley should be accompanied by symbols that held profound meaning for him: the U.S. flag, his badge number, a police cruiser and a police hat, which Musilek fashioned out of the back half of the saddle.
The artist said she spent at least 40 hours crafting the officer’s portrait, which features him smiling broadly.
“I tried to get his image just right and tried to incorporate my own style. I wanted him to look real but still have abstract elements.”
She also worked hard to represent the great love that filled Gully’s life.
Three bright red hearts float under his portrait — one for each of the officer’s two daughters, Taleah, 15, and Torreyanna, 10, and the third for Mia. Each placed their fingerprint inside the hearts as symbols of their love for the fallen officer.
When Mia saw the horse for the first time, it was an emotional experience.
“She put her hand on his portrait and wept quietly for a while,” Musilek said. “It was very heartwarming to see the family’s reaction to the horse... it made it even more meaningful to me to have been a part of it. She is very appreciative of her husband being honored like this.”
Musilek also included a blue heart on Gully’s right shoulder with a thumbprint of Lt. Darci Tierney.
“It symbolizes the Omaha Police Department and represents the concept of the police having the other officers’ backs in all situations, and their sadness at the loss of one of their own,” Musilek said.
The painter took a more abstract approach by drawing inspiration from Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. Ethereal forms appear on the horse’s haunches, legs and neck and provide an otherworldly dimension to the sculpture.
The horse itself is a glowing pearl white, which Musilek chose for its symbolism.
“It’s like a beacon of light,” she said. “It’s representative of the light of a police helicopter or spotlight of a police car on the scene. It also symbolizes the enlightenment of the mind to solve crimes.”
In addition to her sponsor, Musilek found support for her endeavor within the artistic community.
Perfetto Paints in Omaha heard about her project and donated the metallic paints that decorate the horse.
“They specifically mixed them for me and custom-blended them for the horse,” the artist said.
The experience has been meaningful to the painter.
“It’s been wonderful to work on a horse that honors a police officer and the Omaha Police Department,” she said. “There has been so much negativity toward the police in this country the past few years that I think this is a wonderful tribute to all the police. I hope the project catches on across the country.” — Kim Carpenter

Officer Kirk Tynes

End of Watch: April 26, 2010
He was a 20-year military retiree and a police veteran of more than five years at the time of his death.
He began his career with the Omaha Police Department in 2004 and was named 2008 Officer of the Year by the Omaha Coalition of Citizen Patrols.
While stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, he was named Honor Guard
Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year.
Tynes died after a brief battle with stomach cancer. He was 44.
His final assignment with the OPD was with the Southeast Precinct.
He was a longtime Washington Redskins fan and had looked forward to one day taking his sons to a game. After his cancer diagnosis, fellow officers sent him and his family to the nation’s capital — and to a Redskins game.
He left a wife and three children.

Officer Kirk Tynes: That 'thin blue line'

Iggy Sumnik, an artist best known for colorful, fanciful ceramic sculptures, approached his Horse of Honor as a large-scale exercise to test his skills. Created in memory of Officer Kirk Tynes, Sumnik’s horse stands out for being something utterly different: a zebra.
“I wanted to treat my horse like a canvas,” said Sumnik, who was given free rein by the family to approach the memorial as he saw fit.
“I do a lot of pattern work, so I wanted to think of a way to do that with the horse. The zebra fit that artistic vision.”
Sumnik’s horse isn’t just a straightforward black-and-white zebra. Instead, the artist outlined the undulating stripes in salmon pink, ochre and bright blue, the latter color chosen for its symbolic significance.
“I evaluated how I could move about with the design and tie it in with the Omaha Police Department. I needed that ‘thin blue line,’ ” he said in reference to the colloquial term used to represent camaraderie among police officers.
“If it was all blue, though, it wouldn’t have been as engaging, and I wanted to engage viewers so they would keep on investigating. The shifting colors make the piece more whimsical. The more viewers move around it, the more it pulls you around.”
Sumnik was delighted with the other serendipitous symbolism that emerged from his work.
“ ‘Zebra’ can be a term for a police vehicle,” he said, “and my UNMC sponsor said that in the medical field there’s a saying: ‘When you hear hoofbeats, don’t think zebras; think horses.’ ” That means doctors should look for the simplest, most common problem when making a diagnosis before moving on to more exotic causes.
Sumnik is pleased that his Horse of Honor plays with perceptions and forces viewers to consider what they’re seeing. He feels this fits with what police officers have to do in the line of duty.
“A police officer’s job involves having to watch the community, and they have to make judgments on whether or not something should be happening. Is this a horse? Is this a zebra? Or is this a horse that looks like a zebra? It’s not ‘black and white.’ The perception of it changes, and that’s the ongoing task of a cop.”
Sumnik also incorporated the police badge bison in a unique way.
“The eye is a great place to hide it. A friend said I should get some soul into the eyes, and this is like a mirror image,” Sumnik said. “It reflects at the viewer. It’s an allusion to the black of a pupil. You feel like it’s looking at you.”
The artist estimates that he spent at least 300 hours on his Horse of Honor and would like to think that it properly honors Tynes.
“He passed away from cancer, and I wanted this to instill a sense of hope,” Sumnik said. “I wanted to make a great statement and create something that would be remembered. I wanted something pretty attention-grabbing.” — Kim Carpenter

Badge of Honor

The buffalo, an icon of the American West, has been a symbol of the Omaha Police Department since the early 1890s. The OPD traces the first use to the city’s first police chief, Webb S. Seavey, who incorporated the buffalo on badges and patches. Artist Jefferson Davis of Heavy Metal Renaissance replicated the present-day badge in a 6-foot-tall sculpture of hammered surgical stainless steel, wire and argon (above) memorializing all fallen officers of the OPD. Artists in the Horses of Honor project continued the iconic theme — along with a shade of “police blue” — in their tributes.

Horses of Honor: Trail of Heroes section credits

Special sections editor: Chris Christen, 402-444-1094,
Deputy editor: Howard K. Marcus, 402-444-1397,
Designer: Kiley Cruse
Lead writer: Kim Carpenter
Photographers: Kurt A. Keeler, Kiley Cruse, Chris Christen, Colin Conces
Researchers: Joanne Stewart, Jeanne Hauser
Contributors: Lt. Darci Tierney, Omaha Police Department; Molly Skold, Amanda Lustgraaf and Suzanne Diefenbaugh, Midtown Crossing at Turner Park
Project liaison: Rick Thornton,
Cover photo: Colin Conces Photography

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