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Family honors memory of Palm Springs officer killed in line of duty

Lesley Zerebny's family is #HonoringHerMemory

Family of fallen Palm Springs Police...
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - More police officers were killed by gunfire in our country last year than in the last five years.  For those families left behind, the pain can be unbearable.  
 
For the first time, the Zerebny family is speaking out about their daughter-in-law Lesley, who was murdered in an ambush attack in Palm Springs on Oct. 8, 2016.
 
"Ok let's go see," says Joni Zerebny, as she walks into the Palm Springs Police Department, a blue-eyed infant on her hip.  
"Hi!" she exclaims.  "Cora came to say 'hi'!"
 
Joni and Matt Zerebny walk through the department, exchanging hellos with the officers, and pointing out mementoes of their daughter-in-law, Lesley.
 
"You are so beautiful!" says one woman.  "Look at you!"
 
Cora's mother, in name and spirit is never far behind here.
 
Joni points out a plaque on one wall, "There's your mama's name.  Wow.  That's really cool."
 
In photos, paintings, and posters, Lesley Zerebny oversees the group as they greet her old colleagues, the men and women who fought crime alongside her, and now grieve her death.
 
 
"It's tough, obviously," says Palm Springs Police Detective Chris Jaeger.  "Because it brings back those memories.  You see Lesley every time you look at Cora.  But it's good.  I think it's good for the healing, for everyone involved."
 
Palm Springs Police Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, and training Officer Gil Vega, 63, were gunned down through the door of a home where they'd been called to help protect a woman who said her son was acting crazy.  
 
Vega also left behind a wife, adult children, and a 9-year old daughter, Vanessa.
 
The two girls, Cora and Vanessa, forever bonded by the loss of their parents.
 
"For the two girls who lost their parents - the hug and just to share tenderness in the midst of all this," reflects Matt Zerebny.  "It's just ... it just warms your heart and at the same time it just makes you think 'How can I support these families? What can we do to help these families in the midst of it?'"  
 
Zerebny wants to "build a skyscraper of support" for other families of fallen law enforcement officers.
 
"It's unimaginable to think to go through something this horrific having lost a child or parent and on top of that being in financial dire straits, so I am creating the 'Ask Not Challenge.'"

The 'Ask Not Challenge'

"Based off what John F. Kennedy (said) 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country,'" says Matt Zerebny.  So I wanted to be the first in this challenge. My project would be to support other law enforcement families who are going through this nightmare.

So the challenge would basically be, I would reach out to three individuals or companies to promote or partner with us on our project to help ensure it's successful - to benefit other Americans.  So as the 'Ask not challenge,' I'll be reaching out to Jessica Alba and The Honest Company, who supported us amazingly with diapers - soaps - and wipes. Phenomenal.  And then Tim and Gert Boyle from the Colombia Sportswear Company and Warren Buffet.  I'll reach out to those three individuals to partner and help promote our project and then in turn create a new project, and reach out to three other individuals or corporations. So I want to get some momentum going.  Instead of us waiting for the government to do it - we need to involved - and by using the 'Ask not' I thought it could help us bring back times when the country was great.  We need to go back to those good actions and successful things we did to build our country - and unity."
 

Zerebny's project will start with...

The Cora Rayne Collection

Zerebny, a chiropractor by trade, is now venturing into uncharted territory, with the creation of a children's clothing line, The Cora Rayne Collection.  At least 50 percent of the profit made from the sale of the clothing and accessories will go to law enforcement families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.  

Concepts for the company are still in their infancy, but some donations have already been made via a Go Fund Me page.  Among the ideas being considered, items such as:

-IN THE LINE OF DOODY - diapers and training pants
-OVER AND OUT - pullovers and outdoor clothes
-STAND BY - shoes and socks
-READ THEM THEIR WRITES - children's books about The Adventures of Cora  Rayne

Dave Kling, Lesley Zerebny's father says "We are completely on board.  We are just trying to get something good out of this.  Because it's just such a horrific, miserable situation for us to go through.  If we can get a little good out of it, then we are 1000 percent in line with this.  The Cora Rayne line of clothing.  Our families are really close.  (The Zerebnys) loved Lesley like she was their own daughter.  We think it's a fantastic idea.  And anything that can support law enforcement, as I'm a 30 year veteran of the California Highway Patrol, we are supportive of."

"I think Lesley would get a kick out of it," adds Jaeger, whose own child is just two months older than Cora.  "(Lesley) loved the outdoors, she loved her daughter, so you combine the two with this clothing line, I think it's great.

Zerebny says he will start his campaign with The Honest Company, which donated countless products when Lesley was killed.

"We've just had an amazing outpouring, especially the people in the desert communities.  We're so thankful for their compassion and generosity and their wonderful heart. They've been amazing."

At home, the Zerebnys are surrounded by photos, artwork and tributes to Lesley, created and sent to them from all over the country. 

Every new tooth Cora cuts, every milestone she makes, is a reminder of a memory her mother will never have.

"Part of you died when she died," says Matt Zerebny.  "Life is not the same anymore. You just go through each day. You suppress your feelings to be able to make it through each day.  Because as soon as you think about it - you just start to weep - and then you cry yourself to sleep every night - and the next morning you get up and you realize that it starts all over again."

But he says his family, including Lesley's widower Zack, a fellow law enforcement officer, draws strength from time with Cora.

"In the midst of all the grief - you look at her and you go 'I think I can make it.'" 

That is why Joni Zerebny says she'll keep taking Cora to the police department, like her mother would have, and show the other officers how much these girls, Cora and Vanessa, are growing.

"I hope we will be able always have that be part of their life," says Joni.  "For them to know where their mom and dad served.  In the community that they did love.  Very much so."

135 Law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2016, according to preliminary data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.  The report , by the numbers:
  • The highest number of deaths in 5 years
  • A 10 percent increase from the year before
  • 21 officer deaths were the result of ambush attacks, like the one that killed Lesley Zerebny and Gil Vega of the Palm Springs Police Department (the highest number in more than 20 years)
  • 64 officers were shot and killed across the country
  • 8 multiple-shooting death incidents claimed the lives of 20 officers in 2016, which is tied with 1971 for the highest total of any year since 1932.
 

The Cora Rayne Collection

Matt Zerebny, a chiropractor by trade, is now venturing into uncharted territory, with the creation of a children's clothing line, The Cora Rayne Collection.  At least 50 percent of the profit made from the sale of the clothing and accessories will go to law enforcement families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.  

Concepts for the company are still in their infancy, but some donations have already been made via a Go Fund Me page.  Among the ideas being considered, items such as:

-IN THE LINE OF DOODY - diapers and training pants
-OVER AND OUT - pullovers and outdoor clothes
-STAND BY - shoes and socks
-READ THEM THEIR WRITES - children's books about The Adventures of Cora  Rayne


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