The Sheriff's Department monument was Thomas Whelan's brainchild, his pride of joy, a way to remember fallen colleagues and say thanks to a department he was forced by injury to leave.
And now that monument, dedicated to four sheriff's deputies who lost their lives on duty, lies in ruins -- desecrated under a coat of white spray paint and in a pile of sawdust.
Vandals early Wednesday cut down the 15-foot Canadian maple tree, spray-painted the small marble monument and painted a vulgar message in the lawn, just a few feet from Whelan's Orchard Park home.
To Whelan, the 58-year-old retired deputy whose on-duty injury forced him to retire three years ago after an almost 30-year career, it was almost as if somebody had taken the saw to his own body.
"I feel like somebody ripped my heart out. I feel like I lost a relative," Whelan said. "I'm not ashamed to admit I bawled like a baby for an hour this morning, because I couldn't believe anybody would do anything this rotten."
The message on the lawn included some vulgar language and the words "a snitch cop lives here," next to an arrow pointing toward Whelan's house.
Orchard Park detectives and Whelan have a prime suspect in mind. Police interviewed neighbors who heard some noise at about 3 a.m., and detectives later found that footprints in the morning dew led to a nearby house, Detective Thomas Norman said.
"I have a very strong suspicion who did it, but I'm leaving the matter in the police's hands," Whelan said.
No arrest had been made by late Wednesday.
Whelan put up the monument in May, partly because he was good friends with two of the four sheriff's deputies killed in the line of duty: Robert S. Insalaco and William M. Dillemuth.
On May 16, various officials including Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins and Orchard Park Police Chief Robert C. Henning dedicated the monument to the four late deputies:
Joseph J. Wachowiak, beaten to death in the county jail in November 1948.
William R. Dils, 52, fatally shot in November 1977 when he went to the North Collins flat of a migrant worker during a stolen-property investigation.
Insalaco, 42, shot to death while serving an arrest warrant on a North Collins man in August 1987.
Dillemuth, 44, shot to death in October 1989 when he went to a Clarence home to arrest a man who had missed a court hearing on a cocaine charge.
"It was my way of expressing to my department my gratitude at working with a fine group of ladies and gentlemen," Whelan said. "I was proud to work with these people who made the ultimate sacrifice."
Whelan had trouble looking on the bright side Wednesday, as he thought about the monument to the four late deputies.
"I'm devastated that somebody could do this," he said. "They may have thought they were hurting me -- and they did. But they can't kill the thought.
"A tree and a monument have been defaced, but no one can deface (the deputies') memory, their names and their good works."