The tragic deaths of two Santa Cruz police officers in the line of duty Tuesday afternoon have reverberated through the homes, streets and businesses of Santa Cruz. And they have had an impact even farther online.
When Bill Benson, a photojournalist in Laurie, Missouri, heard about the deaths of Det. Elizabeth Butler and Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker through the network of police officers, firefighters and first responders he follows on social media, he did what he'd done 12 times before since Dec. 24 of last year: he started a Facebook page.
Within 20 hours, Support for Santa Cruz Police had more than 5,000 likes. By Thursday at 10 a.m., it had 6,837 and counting.
"I initially heard there were two detectives wounded out there," said Benson, 48. "It started as a page just basically for well-wishing and support for the department, that they would recover."
Instead, the page became a memorial.
Support for Santa Cruz Police is a clearing house for news articles, photos and tributes to the fallen officers. Benson posts the latest information about vigils and fundraisers for the officers' families.
Though Benson doesn't have a personal connection to Santa Cruz or the officers involved, helping support the families of officers who have been killed in the line of duty has become a mission for this Ozarks-based photojournalist who has family and personal connections to firefighters and first responders.
Benson says he and his fiance were first moved to get involved on Facebook after a tragedy in West Webster, New York on Christmas Eve Day, 2012. A man set a housefire to lure in firefighters, then shot four of them, killing two.
Prayers and Support For Webster Firefighters has over 28,000 likes, but it's more than just a Facebook page.
"There seems to be an abundance of charities for the families of fallen law enforcement," Benson said, but no one had yet met "the need for providing hotel rooms for the families of fallen officers."
Benson used the page to solicit direct donations of room stays to family members and other firefighters who needed to travel for funerals and memorial services. Residents called local hotels directly to make donations; the hotels took up the challenge as well and donated rooms of their own.
All told, Benson estimates that the donations totaled the equivalent of $40,000.
"That's what inspired us to move on," Benson said.
Since then, Benson has created Facebook pages and undertaken similar campaigns responding to 11 other line-of-duty deaths, including the Christopher Dorner killings in Southern California earlier this month. He calls his effort Operation 12.24 and plans to start an official non-profit organization.
Right now, Benson is collecting direct contributions on a Fundrazr site to continue to fund hotel rooms and establish non-profit tax status.
Unfortunately, Benson's work doesn't end. This morning at 9:37 a.m., he started a new page: In Memory of Sgt. Gary Morales, for a sheriff's deputy shot and killed in Florida.
See more memorial Facebook pages: