SPOKANE, Wash. – Many of Kurt Henson's closest friends and colleagues learned of his untimely death early Wednesday morning. And in the hours since, many of them – normally hardened and stoic – have broken down in tears sharing their grief, but also their memories, of the man they love.
"It's a hard day," said one of Henson's friends and fellow Spokane Police Officer John Gately. "I was actually called Tuesday night about 2 a.m., and there wasn't a whole lot of sleep after that."
Henson was killed in an off-duty motorcycle crash when he was thrown from the bike, then hit by a truck in a tragic hit-and-run in northern Idaho.
He'd been with Spokane Police for the last 12 years, and the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office prior to that. He was no stranger to his bike or the road; he was a motorcycle officer for a number of years and even taught safe driving classes to police across the state.
But friends say, more than being an officer, Henson loved being a father. His young son, Gage, was the light of his life, and he spoke of his two grown daughters all the time.
"You'd get him talking about his kids, and he'd just beam," Gately said.
"He was a great father, a good man, and a good officer, but you could tell he loved his kids," said another of Henson's good friends of the force, Officer Ryan Snider. "Not that it should happen to anyone, but this was a special guy, and he was a great officer."
Described as a tough man with a big heart, Henson worked the graveyard shift, and was enjoying his days off doing what he loved – riding his Harley. A ride that would be his last.
"There were a lot of tears and red eyes this morning," Snider added. "I don't think anybody's come to terms with it yet. It's still kind of weird, because I just talked to him last week. I mean every morning I talked to him in our parking lot. Every morning."
Friends say, Henson was a private man, but when he spoke, people listened.
"He truly had the respect and admiration of everybody," Gately said. "That grin, the smile on his face, and that chuckle. He wasn't as old and grizzled and ornery as he liked to let on."
While other officers have passed away from various health-related issues, Interim Police Chief Scott Stephens said, this is the first time an active-duty Spokane police officer has been killed in nearly 30 years. The fact that it was so unexpected makes it that much harder.
"He was very well liked and very well respected here in the police department," Chief Stephens said. "And his loss will be a tremendous loss, not only for this department but for his family and this community he chose to serve."
Chief Stephens also said, every single night he prays for the safety of this community as well as the safety of his officers. This morning, he learned the tragic news in a phone call at 1 a.m.
"I was speaking earlier today and I'm not sure which I feel stronger at this point, the sense of loss or the sense of anger," Chief Stephens added. "For somebody to have run over a human being and not stop to render aid just seems unconscionable to me."
The department will wear mourning bands over their badges in honor of their friend, and Spokane Mayor David Condon has ordered all city flags be lowered to half-staff.
Henson would have been back to work Friday, and friends say it's going to be tough to see an empty chair at roll call.
But the hurt, and the overwhelming sense of loss, is just beginning to set in, and it will be a long road ahead for those who knew Kurt Henson best.
"Everybody's taking this hard," Gatley said. "It's as close to a line of duty death as we've had."