- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

OREGON CITY, Ore. (AP) - It was all too obvious that something was seriously wrong when police cars began arriving at Wendy Libke’s house on a Sunday afternoon last November.

Libke, six months pregnant with a girl she would name Ziva, had just returned from her mom’s house.

“We were talking about Ziva’s bedroom and what we were going to do for drapes,” she recalled.

Her husband, Robert Libke, an Oregon City reserve police officer, was on duty. He always checked in with her during his shift.

“I kind of wondered why Rob hadn’t called me,” she said.

“Right around 3:15, 3:30 is when people started rolling up.”

About two hours earlier in Oregon City, an elderly man had gone on a rampage. Lawrence Cambra attacked his girlfriend then set his house on fire. Rob Libke was one of the first officers on the scene.

A little more than a minute after he arrived, Libke encountered the 88-year-old Cambra, who fired a single shot that struck Libke in the head.

In an instant Rob Libke became tragic hero mourned by people across the country.

And Wendy Libke, 43, a woman who embraced privacy, found herself propelled into a grim prominence.

Oregon City police and Libke’s family honored the reserve officer Friday with a tribute on Main Street where shopkeepers hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. Last year, Libke was the one giving candy to children as he knelt next to a patrol car. It was his last full detail.

“One of the things he liked was getting kids to know police officers are good people,” Wendy Libke said.

As the Nov. 3 anniversary of the shooting approached, Wendy Libke agreed to an interview. It is the first time she has spoken publicly about the loss of her husband and the outpouring of support she received from thousands of people she’s never met.

“It seemed like every police department in the country sent something; a card, a teddy bear a well wish,” she said.

People contributed money to a memorial fund. They helped renovate her home. Oregon legislators quickly passed The Robert Libke Memorial Act that extends scholarship benefits to children of Oregon’s 1,800 reserve officers and volunteer 7,000 firefighters.

On Nov. 14, a miles-long procession of police cars and emergency vehicles escorted Rob Libke’s body from Oregon City to Portland, where thousands of people attended a memorial ceremony.

During the days following the shooting, “there was always somebody by my side, and by my husband’s side,” Wendy Libke recalled.

The flood of concern and compassion overwhelmed her.

“It was nice to know everyone cared.”

When Wendy Libke saw Oregon City Sgt. Greg Johnston on her porch, “I knew something had happened. Something bad had happened.”

She thinks she tried closing the door.

“I panicked. I broke down. I kept asking what happened, what happened, what happened.”

That night she went to the hospital where her husband lay unresponsive, his body damaged beyond repair. She stayed for two days.

“It seemed like 20 minutes,” she said. “There was a lot of decision-making and a lot of conversations about really bad stuff. But I had my family there and the whole (police department) was there.”

Police agencies throughout Clackamas County temporarily filled in for Oregon City police so officers could be home with their families.

“You block a lot of things out,” Libke said. “I don’t know if the grieving process started until after the funeral.”

Hers was a high-risk pregnancy requiring bed rest. She, too, was admitted to the hospital.

“I had a couple of scares while I was in the hospital,” she said. “I had to focus a lot more on my child instead of what was at hand. It was taxing. It was brutal. Devastating.”

And now?

“I haven’t recovered, but with Ziva in the world, now it’s a lot lighter.”

Wendy and Rob met while attending Portland’s Marshall High School.

“I was dating his best friend,” she said.

They occasionally saw each other socially over the next 15 years.

They had their first date on Halloween 2006 and married in 2011.

She had recently graduated from college. “He had a good job. I had a good job. I was getting married. I was living my dream,” she said.

“We had started a life that we both had waited for for a long time. He didn’t want kids when we first got together. Once we got married he was the one who wanted to start having kids.”

Rob Libke worked by day as a supervisor at Evraz Oregon Steel. He became an Oregon City reserve officer in 2009, more comfortable with the unpaid police work than his regular job, his wife said.

“That’s what he wanted to do,” Wendy Libke said. “How can you deny that?”

He was a volunteer, she told herself, somehow insulated from danger. The notion made it easier for her to sleep at night.

“I thought he was like a student and the officers were teachers. He was doing his stuff. It was volunteer stuff. He was out of harm’s way. Working on a Sunday, those things don’t happen.”

As for Lawrence Cambra, the man who killed her husband:

“I don’t give him much thought,” she said. “I give thought to the domestic violence that created the whole situation.”

Wendy Libke is sure of one thing: She wants to honor her husband’s legacy of community service.

She hasn’t decided what she’ll do. It could be working to prevent domestic violence. It may involve consoling families of officers killed in the line of duty.

“I think I had to change as a person and become my husband’s advocate. He was warmer to people, more outgoing than I was.”

After his death, “it was incredibly different and difficult for me to open up and have other people helping or donating,” she said.

“It changed me. I’m a different person now. It’s a good change.”


Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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