A single piece of fabric is helping unite local communities for a good cause.
Hundreds of residents across the Tulsa-metro area are placing blue bows atop their mailboxes to honor a fallen Tulsa police officer, and to show their support for law enforcement.
Sgt. Craig Johnson and officer Aurash Zarkeshan were both shot multiple times during a traffic stop in east Tulsa on June 29. Zarkeshan was hospitalized and is currently recovering, but Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the force, succumbed to his wounds the next day.
The officers’ families have received an outpouring of care from Oklahomans since the incident, including Broken Arrow’s Erin Carlson, who started selling the bows at $10 each as a way to commemorate the two men in uniform and give back to their loved ones.
“When the shooting happened, my heart just sank,” said Carlson, who shares close ties with law enforcement through family. “I wanted to do something that would really impact the police community.”
She got the idea from a friend who had raised over $5,000 for a fallen officer in a small Tennessee town through a similar campaign a year ago, and kicked off her own drive on July 2. She teamed up with another friend, Whitney Hanson, the wife of a Tulsa officer, who also served as an inspiration.
“Once we found out that Craig passed away, we really wanted to make a difference, and we wanted it to be a visual difference,” Hanson said, “and give those police officers something to see as they come home from work and as they drive to work.”
All of the proceeds from the sales go to the families of Johnson and Zarkeshan through the Tulsa FOP Benevolence Fund.
What started as a humble effort to raise funds in the confines of Carlson’s Broken Arrow neighborhood quickly turned into a largescale movement that has spread into several communities. In a week’s time, she went from selling nearly 40 bows to more than 1,000.
“People had shared our Facebook post, and it was just, ‘Can we meet you somewhere?’ ‘Can we pick up somewhere?’” Carlson said. “That’s when we decided we probably needed to start going places and setting up and letting people come to us.”
Her first stop was a Kohl’s parking lot in Tulsa on Sunday, followed by a visit to a Target the next day. She then headed north to Owasso, setting up a booth outside Stone Canyon Elementary on Tuesday and Smith Farm Marketplace on Thursday.
Contributions from Owasso residents like Cindy Gipson have gone toward raising more than $3,000 throughout the week.
“I wanted to do something for the families of the officers,” said Gipson, who bought two bows at the Smith Farm location. “We try to support the police department anytime we can, and I know that they’re struggling to have support right now all over the place.”
So far, Carlson and her team have garnered over $10,500 in total donations, which is expected to grow with more planned visits to various locations.
She said she’s thankful for the growing number of responses since kicking off the campaign — a turnout that she claims is a testament to racial and political unity amid civic unrest across the nation.
“I just have been blown away by the community and by the support. Owasso and Broken Arrow have embraced us, and that makes me so happy, because it was a Tulsa police officer,” Carlson said. “I really just wanted our local officers to feel our love … through this tragedy.”