By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – During afternoon roll call at the Minneapolis Police Department’s 2nd Precinct in mid-January, compassion and appreciation for police officers was given to them in the form of a sturdy, colorful and circular piece of metal called a “Life Coin.”

Bill Oliver and Shaun Higgins bought 94 coins, enough for each officer in the precinct.

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“Thank you for your service, thank you so much,” Oliver said.

Weeks earlier, Oliver and Higgins did the same thing at the 3rd Precinct.

“One precinct at a time, until we cover all of Minneapolis,” Oliver said.

The coins include a phone number for Safe Call Now, a hotline that police officers, firefighters, EMS and corrections officers can call if they are having suicidal thoughts.

The person who answers the call is a current or former first responder; someone who has been in their shoes and felt their struggles.

Carol Castle (credit: CBS)

Carol Castle designed the coin, which was part of a passionate endeavor born of out her own heartbreaking loss.

“I vetted about 14 different suicide hotlines before I came into Safe Call Now,” Castle said.

Her son, Maple Grove firefighter Maury Roemhild, killed himself a few year ago. Castle said he had a warm, friendly personality. She said he was always kept busy and loved doing fire safety education with children.

She didn’t see any signs that he was troubled, other than someone who looked tired or overworked. Oliver, who was one of her son’s friends, says Maury was the greatest guy you will ever meet.

“A lot of it was 100% unforeseen. No one really saw it coming,” Oliver said.

In the months that followed Maury’s death, Castle began researching suicide among first responders and realized her son was not alone.

A study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that in 2017, more police officers and firefighters died from suicide, 243, than in the line of duty, 227.

The trauma witnessed while on the job can lead to mental illness, such as depression or PTSD.

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“I think a lot of times as police officers, we kind of harbor a lot of those emotions and memories that we have,” 2nd Precinct Inspector Todd Loining said. “Over time, it can be tough on you, it really can.”

Castle worked as a corrections officer for several years and empathizes with what first responders endure.

“Cops see stuff that the rest of us don’t, and then they see something totally different an hour later. There’s never ending what they see,” she said. “And then they take a break and go right back to it, and they’ve got to normalize this? Your body and your brain doesn’t always normalize it and it catches up to you.”

In spring of 2019, almost two years after her son’s death, Castle started Wrestling 4 Life — a nonprofit that’s dedicated to stopping suicide among first responders. The coin was the tool she wanted to give to them to get help.

“I wanted to design it to keep it in their pocket, that you’d feel its heavy weight even if you have keys. Even if you have change in your pocket, you’re going to feel this life coin,” she said.

Life Coins (credit: CBS)

Castle sells the coins through Wrestling 4 Life’s website. People can buy one or enough to adopt an entire department.

After just eight months, she estimates more than 3,500 coins are now in the pockets of first responders. She said they have had about 45 departments fully adopted in seven states. She recently completed trips to New Hampshire and Maine to deliver coins to a fire department and police department.

“People are getting help, people are getting services and they’re not afraid to get help because they know it’s anonymous,” she said.

Oliver and Higgins, who work together in the real estate industry in the Twin Cities, are two of her most dedicated donors.

“[Higgins] and I have often talked that if we can help one person out of this whole scenario, it’d be worth it, 100-times over,” Oliver said.

He says their plan is to adopt each Minneapolis fire department once they finish with the police department.

Almost every week, another donor steps up to the plate to adopt a department, Castle said. She feels there’s much work to be done, but momentum is on their side.

“I already lost my son, and I just did this because I didn’t want another mom to go through what I went through,” Castle said.

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Click here for more information on Wrestling 4 Life, and to purchase a Life Coin.

Jeff Wagner