TAMPA, Fla. — It has been a month. For some, a lifetime. For some, just a month. For the Madsen family, one can only begin to imagine what this past month has been like for them.
In March, their father, and Danyelle Madsen’s husband, Tampa Police Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen, made a split-second decision that took his life.
He put his car in front of a wrong-way drunk driver on I-275 and saved others on the road, according to investigators.
10 Tampa Bay's Courtney Robinson spoke with his wife about trying to find a path forward for their 3 children, and about the incredible gift that allows them to grieve and stay in the home he made with them forever.
She said she felt lost.
"I’m a mess really. I’m a mess. I just miss him so much. Like, you’re with someone for 18 years and then all of a sudden they’re just gone,” said Madsen.
How else is she supposed to feel? It’s all too raw, too recent, especially for a family that never imagined they would be grieving such an immense loss.
Jesse Madsen was, as Danyelle said, a “cop’s cop.” Always there and always coming home.
"You don’t ever dream that it’s going to be your family that’s going through the situation. So, you know, I have bad days and I have better days but it’s still really hard," she said.
Officer Madsen isn’t the only police officer in the home. Danyelle serves with the University of South Florida police force. Prior to that, she worked with Gulfport Police before taking time off to care for her young children while her husband deployed to Afghanistan.
The two actually met in Ohio while on duty. They were both in law enforcement and from that night on they were together.
That was 18 years ago.
“I just always knew that he was there to protect me,” Madsen said.
She never once worried he wouldn’t come home from patrol or his three combat deployments with the Army.
Now she says she can’t say that to her kids about herself. She’s a mom. She’s a police officer. She’s a widow.
"I don't want them to ever have to feel that pain again. So for me, having to go back into law enforcement and get back in my cruiser and drive away and say, you know, my kids will -- everything will be okay was terrifying to me. And, you know, my kids that begged me, 'please, please, please don't, you know, don't go back to work,'” she said.
Put yourself in her shoes.
Amid the grief and coming to terms with the loss of a husband, how do you go back into law enforcement and care for an 11-year-old, 12-year-old, and 17-year-old? And do it alone, financially and emotionally?
"You go through all these emotions. You go through anger and hurt. And I’m thinking, 'well, you know where was our guardian angel? Why did this happen?' You know, we all have guardian angels. Where was ours? And I truly, truly feel that the Tunnel to Towers Foundation was -- is our guardian angel.”
Tunnel to Towers is a non-profit created by the family of FDNY firefighter Stephen Siller who laid down his life to save others when America was attacked on 9/11.
For 20 years, it has honored his legacy by supporting the heroes who risk life and limb in the line of duty.
Through its Fallen First Responder Home Program, the foundation paid the Madsen’s mortgage off in full.
“It’s about the children. Now, mom or dad goes to work or is serving the country overseas and doesn’t come home. They have built their family structure on possibly two incomes and that’s removed. Now the children are in jeopardy of having to move out of that house that they can’t afford because of the loss of that income, lose their friends and their neighbors, their schools. And so it’s just one traumatic thing after another,” said John Huvane.
Huvane says this year alone they expect to help at least 130 families. Paying off a mortgage allows them to stay in a home where they have made memories. It allows families to grieve without worrying about how to pay the mortgage. It allows spouses to make decisions that are best for their children.
"I get to stay in the house where I have memories and where my kids have all of our memories of Jesse, you know, if there’s little things all over that I won’t clean up or move because they were from him, you know, like his socks on the floor or a Gatorade bottle he drank out of," she said.
"You know, we have a spot out in the garage where he used to get ready for work every day, and he would you know hang up his uniform and he had his little chair and he would put his lunchbox on it and that’s all still there. Like and I want it to be there forever, so like the kids, I know it sounds so silly, but it was our normalcy."
As a family of service, she admits that it has been hard for her to accept help because she says they’re used to always being the family that gives.
Jesse instilled that in his children. She says the community support has been incredible and has helped lift up Danyelle and her family when they need it.
What other people are reading right now:
- Submersible working to locate underwater leak at Piney Point site
- Florida files lawsuit against Biden administration, CDC demanding reopening of cruise industry
- Man accused of killing mom, baby in 2018 Bayshore crash to be sentenced
- Are some COVID-19 vaccines more effective than others?
- DOJ: Florida man indicted for assaulting officer with skateboard during Capitol insurrection
- Gaetz associate working toward plea deal with prosecutors
►Breaking news and weather alerts: Get the free 10 Tampa Bay app
►Stay In the Know! Sign up now for the Brightside Blend Newsletter