FORT MYERS, Fla. - A former Monclova Township man who became a police officer so he and his wife could save up and go to Thailand as missionaries was shot and killed after police were called to a disturbance outside a downtown nightclub early yesterday.
Rookie Officer Andrew Widman, 30, was shot in the face at close range after he stepped in to break up a dispute between a man and his girlfriend at about 2 a.m., police Maj. Doug Baker said.
The suspect, identified as 26-year-old Abel Arango of Naples, ran from the scene while firing at other officers, Major Baker said. Four officers returned fire, killing Arango.
Witnesses told police that before Officer Widman arrived at the scene, Arango said "he was going to go out Miami-style, and he was going to take one of our officers with him," Major Baker said at a news conference. Arango was an ex-convict who was free on bond while awaiting trial on drug and probation violation charges.
Fort Myers city Councilman Johnny Streets, a former police officer, told the News-Press of Fort Myers that the last time the department lost an officer to a shooting was in 1924.
Mr. Widman and his wife, Susanna, had three children - a son, who turned 4 on April 30; a daughter, 2, and an infant.
"While being a police officer wasn't his first career choice, he had all the compassion that would enable him to be a great police officer," said Mary Brack, executive director of Grace Church, 3700 Dorr St. in Toledo, where Officer Widman led the college ministry for about two years until 2005.
"If you think of one of the characteristics of a police officer is as a peacemaker, Andy fit that bill," Mrs. Brack said. "I can't imagine what Susanna is going through with three young children."
This photo of Andrew Widman, his wife, Susanna, and son, Samuel, was a promotion for their missionary work in Thailand. Mr. Widman graduated from Toledo Christian School.
The couple lived in Monclova Township with his parents, Joseph and Martha Widman, until 2005, when they moved to Florida to be near his wife's parents, Grace Church Pastor Doug Rumschlag said.
In Toledo, they were raising money from area churches for their ultimate goal - to become missionaries to Thailand. After they moved, they sought support from congregations in Florida. Officer Widman was self-employed at first, taking repair and construction-related jobs, as he had in the Toledo area.
"The opportunity to join the police force came along, and that meant more steady income, and he took that opportunity," said Pastor Rumschlag, who knew Officer Widman for about 15 years.
"Andy just had a real heart for God's word, and he wanted to be a missionary and especially felt called to Thailand," Mr. Rumschlag said. "He was heading that way."
Officer Widman already had done missionary work in Asia.
He was a graduate of Toledo Christian School. He received a bachelor's degree from Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, where he met his wife.
He then went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, where he received a master's degree in theology, Mr. Rumschlag said.
Back at Grace, he was hired as a college-age ministry leader.
"He had a tremendous impact on the lives of young people," Mr. Rumschlag said. "And he especially was incredible at ministering to young married folk and helped them get through the kind of common struggles that young folk have.
"He had tremendous potential. He was a great speaker. He had a real hold on the Bible and what the Bible had to say. He was a leader. I love this young man. He was an incredible guy," the pastor said.
"He's going to be greatly missed. The world could use a whole lot of guys like Andy. He was a difference-maker."
At the Widman home in Monclova Township, a woman who identified herself as an aunt said: "Our family is in deep shock at this time, we thank everyone for their support and ask that we have some private time to make the arrangements to be with his wife and children."
He joined the police department in April, 2007, Major Baker said.
"He was a good guy," Major Baker said. "He'll be missed by his peers."
Mayor Jim Humphrey said it was "one of the saddest days in the life of this city."
Councilman Streets said: "A piece of America died today. A piece was plucked out of the flag."
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Arango spent more than four years in prison on convictions for burglary, robbery, grand theft, and carrying a concealed weapon.
He was released on March 1, 2004. In May, he was charged with violating probation on those convictions after he was arrested on drug charges. His attorney said he was free on $100,000 bond.