ONLY ON 8: Officer Herrera’s widow talks final moments and roadblocks to healing
Carrie Herrera is opening up to Channel 8 News about the intimate moments and memories surrounding her husband's tragic death last year.
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Carrie Herrera, widow of Lincoln Police Investigator Mario Herrera, who was shot in the line of duty in August and died in September, is opening up for the first time since his passing.
For most of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska, Investigator Herrera’s passing was just a few days of grief and remembrance, thoughts and prayers.
But for his family, the last five months have been filled with mountains and molehills and continues to be interrupted by a series of roadblocks.
“Somedays you feel like you can do this, and then some days you think about your future and get very scared,” Carrie says. “When they say it’s a roller coaster, you have ups and downs – it’s 100% the truth.”
On August 26, 2020, Carrie was at Pius High School, where she works as a baker, when a co-worker approached her to tell her someone was in the front office to talk with her. It was her husband’s partner with the Lincoln Police, who came to tell her that Mario had been shot while serving a search warrant.
“I didn’t think it was as bad as it was. I did not think after Mario being an officer for 23 years… that is the last thing you think of. An officer does not go to work every day thinking they’re going to get shot,” Carrie tells Channel 8 Eyewitness News reporter Marlo Lundak.
Carrie and her four children arrived at Bryan Health, but Mario had already been taken into emergency surgery. Carrie says the surgeon came out to tell her that her husband was unusually strong, but was in very critical condition.
After his initial surgeries, Carrie says seeing him for the first time was when she knew things were serious. The next was when he was transferred to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Later, Carrie learned that during his first surgery, his heart had stopped entirely. The surgeons operating on him revived him by massaging his heart until it started beating on its own again.
Nebraskans and even those across the country impatiently waited for any update on his condition, sending messages of hope, prayers, and even gathering outside the hospital in support. It was a full-time battle for Carrie and the kids, who stayed in Omaha for 10 days while Mario fought for his life.
“Somebody had donated hotel rooms and so my kids slept there, I think after four days I went back to the hotel, took a shower, and came back. Yeah, we spent 24 hours with him,” Carrie says.
Mario’s heart and lungs were doing relatively well, Carrie says, until day 10, September 7.
“His blood pressure just kept dropping, they kept giving him more medication, more medication but finally they said there’s nothing else we can do.”
The final moments of his life were spent with Carrie and the kids. For hours they surrounded him, talked to him, and prayed with him until he passed in the early morning hours.
“It was so so hard, but it was unbelievably beautiful. That’s how I explain it, I don’t know how to explain it any better. My 15-year-old was laying in bed with him, you could feel his heart and it was just unbelievably beautiful but it was hard,” she says.
The Herrera’s left Omaha to go home to Lincoln alone, out of sight from the thousands of supporters lining the interstate overpasses and city streets, as well as cameras from local news outlets.
One of the hardest moments happening as they pulled into their driveway without Mario for the first time.
“That’s probably one of the worst feelings, knowing that he’s never going to be coming back to this house.”
As if dealing with his passing wasn’t enough, Carrie had more issues lying ahead of her, interrupting her healing process.
“Five weeks after Mario passed, my insurance was going to be done. So I could’ve either taken up the COBRA plan and paid $2,000 a month for his insurance or sought my own insurance. I was scared to death.”
Carrie and her sister Melissa tell Channel 8 News they were at Mario’s burial service, unable to focus as they debated what steps to take to maintain an insurance plan that will continue to cover the Herrera’s.
Mayor Gaylor Baird, however, resolved the issue after being approached by Carrie, allowing her to keep Mario’s insurance at his same price for three more years.
But weeks later, a meeting with the Lincoln Police Union attorney about Mario’s benefits dealt another blow.
“We left the office and my brother said ‘don’t sign anything Carrie, don’t do anything this is not right,’ and so I didn’t. My brother and some other officers looked into it and, yeah, basically the city was not going to give Mario his full pension.”
Had Carrie’s brother, also a Lincoln Police Officer, and other supportive LPD members with her, she very well could have signed what was presented to her, not knowing she would be losing thousands of dollars that her husband earned.
A city ordinance passed in 1994 states that police officers or firefighters who are under a certain pension plan with the city and are killed in the line of duty can’t receive full benefits from both the employee’s worker’s compensation and their full pension, no matter how long they paid into it.
Vince Powers, the attorney representing Carrie Herrera, told Channel 8 News in December that he suspects the ordinance was liked passed in order to save money.
“It just did not seem right. It was not right, it didn’t make sense to me. I don’t think the city knew really what was going on and I think that now they do, I think it should be changed,” Carrie says.
“If Mario retired, we would be collecting more of his pension than we are right now.”
$2,812 more each month, to be exact. That’s just over $33,000 yearly.
The Herrera’s didn’t receive their first payment from Mario’s pension until October 31, and it was only a partial payment. Carrie says she was later told the payments should have started immediately following his death.
For weeks, the Herrera’s went with limited income.
Carrie says she reached out to local attorney Vince Powers about the city ordinance and pension issue weeks later. Powers then approached Councilwoman Tammy Ward, who agreed to propose an amendment to the ordinance in place which would allow the Herreras, and anyone in the future, their full benefits.
In a statement to Channel 8 News in December, Councilwoman Ward says, “Updating the City’s ordinance to help Mrs. Herrera and her family is absolutely the right thing to do. When asked by her legal counsel, Vince Powers, if I would introduce the amendment to do so, it was without hesitation and an honor to say yes.”
The proposed amendment will be presented for first reading at the city council meeting on January 25. If the amendment doesn’t pass, both Powers and Carrie say they are prepared to file a lawsuit with the city.
“I’m honestly just tired and I think I shielded my kids a lot from it, and I’m glad I have but I just wasn’t expecting this. From day one I was expecting to start healing as soon as I lost Mario I guess. I feel like there are just little barriers that keep bringing it back and back and back to everything,” Carrie says.
Going through the confusion and pain to clear the way for a similar situation in the future is worth it, Carrie says. She doesn’t want anyone else to experience the hurt that she and her family have felt in the months since her husband’s passing.
“I hate that this happened to me and my family,” she says. “I hope that if and when this happens again, that they can start healing right away and not have to deal with all these little barriers.”
Carrie also expressed immense gratitude to her Lincoln community members, who selflessly gave their time, money, blood, and prayers to her family.
“If it wasn’t for the community’s help, it would have been hard. Like I said, we didn’t get anything until the end of October.”
The tens of thousands of dollars donated to the family in a matter of weeks went to payments and bills. This, along with the outpouring of love and support offered by the community, including those who showed up to line the streets on his funeral day, helped her family in an indescribable way, Carrie says.
“That truly, truly is what got us through part of this whole ordeal. People’s prayers, donations, thoughts about us are what got us through this. Knowing the community was suffering just as much as we were, so, it was very humbling to see that.”
“Mario will never be forgotten here.”