TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - One year isn't nearly enough time to make losing a son any easier for Steve Atherly and Susan Bernhardt.
The parents of Topeka Police Officer Jeff Atherly each told 13 News that the anniversary of their son's death in the line of duty is an emotional time.
"You never forget that night," said Steve recently, sitting in the classroom where he teaches at Highland Park School.
Steve says he remembers clearly the last conversation he had with Jeff. He said Jeff dropped off his son, Logan, who is now 4, before heading to his shift at the Topeka Police Department on December 16, 2012. Steve said they exchanged a hug and, as he always did, told him, "Be careful out there."
"That was it," Steve said. "(I was) fully expecting him to come up the stairs later that evening."
Instead, he says, Jeff's fiance came through the door, grabbed Logan and went into another room. She was followed up the stairs by three officers and a chaplain. Steve says he knew then the news he would receive.
Jeff's mom, Susan Bernhardt, says the memories of that night are still too painful to discuss, saying only that it was a "total shock."
In the year since Jeff and Corp. David Gogian were killed, Susan and Steve both say they have been embraced by the law enforcement community and the community at large, as well as their workplaces. Susan also is a teacher, working at Overbrook in the Santa Fe Trail district.
Susan said she is forever grateful to everyone in Topeka for their support, kindness and prayers. She says she is moving forward by giving back to the community, just as Jeff served. Among her efforts is advocating for organ donation. Jeff's story is included in the Midwest Transplant Network's 2014 calendar. In death, Susan says, her son gave the gift of life.
"It's really a comfort to me and helping the lives of others," Susan said. "It's so very important I'm proud of Jeff's decision to be an organ donor."
Steve finds comfort in the memories people have shared of Jeff. He says many people have shared how patient and how kind he was. He says he even received a note from a woman who had to call police during a problem with her foster child. The woman said Jeff was the responding officer and took the time to sit down and really talk to the young person to work through the issues.
Steve says he will share those stories with Jeff's son Logan and stepson Eric, so they will know the hero their father was.
"I couldn't have asked for a better son," Steve said. "Most fathers couldn't say that their son is their role model, but he's certainly mine."
13 News also reached out to the Gogian family through the Topeka Police Department and were told they preferred to remain private. We respect their wishes.