At an early age, Marcus Stephens would tell anyone he met that he wanted to be a policeman.
“He’d stop the police and tell them, ‘I’m gonna be a SWAT police. I’m going to get all the bad guys and lock ’em up,’” Marcus’ mother, Henda Johnson, said. “Ever since he was 3 years old, he wanted to be a policeman and SWAT at that — everything SWAT.”
On May 2, 2012, Marcus died from complications of lymphoblastic lymphoma. He was 12. To honor his memory, West Hartford Police dedicated their SWAT training room in the Hartford boy’s name during a ceremony Friday afternoon.
Detective Sgt. Anthony Anderle worked with former Farmington Avenue coffee shop owner Jason Kovolski to organize a series of police-themed adventures for Marcus, and continued to work to honor Marcus after his death, culminating in Friday’s SWAT room dedication.
“My message here to Marcus today is, wherever you may be right now, whichever streets you are patrolling, what SWAT team you’re a part of, I would like you to know you’ve now made it onto our SWAT team,” Anderle said.
Marcus was diagnosed with the disease in 2009, when he was 9 and a student at Clark Street School in Hartford. He refused to say that he had cancer.
“He never said it was cancer. He just said it was a bad cold,” Johnson said. “He never wanted you to treat him different. He still wanted to be treated the same.”
During his longer stays at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, he would have airsoft guns and targets set up in his room to practice. He did spend time at the CREC Public Safety Academy in Enfield.
Kovolski met Marcus through Marcus’ older brother, Stanley Williams. Kovolski and Williams played semi-professional football together on the Connecticut Panthers. Kovolski’s daughter has been going to the medical center for a while, and he asked if he could visit with Marcus.
After meeting him and learning of his dream to become a police officer, Kovolski reached out to Anderle, who organized a tour of the West Hartford Police Department and a ride in the SWAT team’s BearCat truck to Kovolski’s Bentwood Road home.
“After talking with Marcus, crying in happiness, and he’s like ‘I finally did it,’” Kovolski recalled of Marcus’ day with the West Hartford Police. “I mean, it’s kind of big for a kid to deal with what he’s dealing with.”
After Marcus’ death in 2012, West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove named him an honorary police officer.
“I know a couple of our officers, many of our officers, really had strong relationships with Marcus,” Gove said. “It’s our honor and privilege to be able to dedicate our SWAT room, our emergency services unit room, in honor of Marcus and carry on his memory here, and kind of commemorate it and keep his spirit alive with us.”
Williams said he is humbled by and grateful for the West Hartford Police Department’s gesture.
“We’re not taxpaying West Hartford citizens, nor did we grow up in the West Hartford community,” Williams said. “In today’s climate of race relations, the fact that these gentlemen, and women as well, would even take the time out of their day to honor this little African-American child who loved nothing more than to serve and protect the good people, so to speak, the good guys from the bad guys, that they would embrace him like that, I think is beautiful and I really appreciate it.”
When she found out the department would dedicate its training room to Marcus, Johnson said, through tears, that it felt good.
“I knew it's what Marcus wanted,” she said. “He wanted to be a police officer, and I know he’s looking down smiling. He really wanted to be an officer. It was his dream. He’s up there patrolling.”