Little chief Howie Koch leaves lasting impression | Slideshow

Howard “Howie” Koch’s head settled on a comfortable shoulder as each of his fellow new police chiefs were ceremonially pinned with golden badges.

He was practically sleeping on the job. Though, it was also hard to blame him — lunch hadn’t yet been served and it had already been an eventful day.

Koch and 33 other King County youngsters were anointed Chief for a Day on Aug. 21, with emotional ceremonies and law enforcement related activities for hundreds of the little chiefs’ friends, families and officers from around the county. The event outfits children suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses with mini, hand-tailored uniforms, a certificate, badge and, most importantly, a day of blissful distraction.

Doctors diagnosed Koch with stage four neuroblastoma in Dec. 2013, at the age of 2. Koch recently finished his second round of experimental chemotherapy. The cancer currently sits in his eye sockets, cheek bones and skull, plus all of his joints. Once, and if, he goes into remission, doctors can look at a bone marrow transplant. Koch suffers from nausea and digestive issues, while the chemotherapy sometimes also causes bouts of depression. Koch, called the “Cancer Ninja,” is so used to doctors and medical lingo that when someone says the word blood pressure, he knows to put out his arm for a reading.

“It’s a shame he understands what it is,” said Mitchell Neary, who is engaged to Koch’s mother, Jenna Rossi. “A 3 year old shouldn’t know that.”

The 34 little chiefs were the largest showing for the legislature-approved program, which is funded by donations from local tribes, organizations/companies/businesses, community members and fundraisers. The Black Diamond Police Department has reached out to a chronically ill child from the city two other times since 2010.

“We didn’t know if (Koch) would make the event,” said Cmdr. Greg Goral with the Black Diamond Police Department. “(The cancer) came back pretty hard.”

Koch’s day started at the Showare Center, where he couldn’t take his eyes off the thundering motorcycles. He then rode in a motorcade to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien. When he walked through the front doors, the state police called for a salute, standing their position on both sides until the 3 year old passed into the building.

Neary didn’t expect such an organized and ceremonial event and was pleased to see Koch happily hobbling around, laughing and playing.

“It’s good to see him enjoying this,” Neary said.

The Black Diamond Police Department raised more than $3,000 in cash for the family, plus community gift certificates. Howie and his brother received a  Nintendo Wii and motorized police chargers.

Just prior to the badge ceremony, Rossi told The Reporter she was in a “euphoric state,” in awe of how the community and law enforcement embraced her son.

“This has been one of the most powerful moments of my life,” Rossi said. “I can’t explain it – the most incredible feeling ever… I feel blessed to be apart of it.”

Koch spent much of the ceremony laying on Black Diamond Police Chief Jamey Kiblinger, who has known Rossi for almost 18 years. Although Koch and Kiblinger had only seen each other off and on for a couple months, Rossi said Koch has always felt comfortable around Kiblinger. It’s as if he can sense that these two adults have known each other a long time, Rossi said.

“That’s why I start crying,” Rossi said. “To see life line up like that. It’s a beautiful thing.”

To Kiblinger, the Chief for a Day event is one of a kind.

“There’s honestly nothing better,” Kiblinger said.

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