A homicide investigation is under way in the death of Wauwatosa police officer Jennifer Lynn Sebena, 30, whose body was found early Christmas Eve morning in the Village area of the city.
Wauwatosa Police Lt. Gerald Witkowski said at a noon press conference that the on-duty officer was struck by multiple gunshots. Dispatchers had tried to reach her between 3 and 5 a.m. without success, and officers searched for her. A fellow officer found her dead about 5 a.m. Sebena's body was reportedly found in a parking lot at or very near Wauwatosa Fire Station No. 1, at 1463 Underwood Ave.
According to the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial web site, Sebena is the first Wauwatosa officer to be killed in the line of duty. Officer Abby Pavlik was shot and seriously wounded during a robbery investigation on Dec. 13, 2009. Pavlik recovered from her injuries.
Witkowski would not say whether Sebena was shot in her squad car or outside of it. He also would not speculate as to what led to the shooting. He did say that she was on patrol alone and that she did not call for backup. According to a police source from another department who has connections to the Wauwatosa Police Department, Officer Sebena was shot at least four times from the front.
Wauwatosa police are asking that anyone with any information about the shooting please call 414-771-8672, the Wauwatosa Police tip line. Tips can be anonymous.
The area near the shooting remained cordoned off through Monday afternoon, and the shooter or shooters remain at large as of almost 10 p.m. Monday. Witkowski said there are no suspects as of noon. Trinity Episcopal Church, in the area impacted by street closures due to the investigation, had to cancel a 4 p.m. Christmas Eve service. The church held a candlelight vigil at 10 p.m. for Sebena.
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Sebena joined the department in January 2011 while completing the law enforcement program at Milwaukee Area Technical College and began patroling solo in July of this year. She finished her probationary period in November, Witkowski said.
Sebena lived in Menomonee Falls. JSOnline reported that she lived with her husband, Benjamin Sebena, and the couple had no children. Various unmarked police vehicles and what appeared to be police officials were seen visiting a residence in Menonomee Falls on Monday afternoon, a residence that sources said was Sebena's. A Menonomee Falls Police Department spokesperson said the department was not involved in the investigation.
"There's a lot of heavy hearts. It's not a believable thing," Witkowski said.
Witkowski said the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation is heading the investigation and that the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office was on the scene. Officers from Brookfield, West Allis, Elm Grove and the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department were also assisting.
Asked by one reporter why there was such a massive response, Witkowski said, almost incredulously: "Because we've lost an officer."
According to a former Wauwatosa police officer who retired last year — and was part of the panel that interviewed and hired Sebena — the officer would have been expected to have called in any contact that she initiated, such as a traffic stop or stopping a suspicious character.
"That would be the expectation," said former sergeant Tanya Karnick. "That is the training, and I think anyone from any of the departments around here would tell you that Wauwatosa's training is very, very good."
On the other hand, Karnick said, if a member of the public initiates contact with an officer — by approaching or flagging them down — it is not typical practice to radio that contact in before responding to the citizen, if there is no reason for suspicion.
Karnick said that late-shift Wauwatosa officers frequently use the fire station as a stop for the rest rooms or to use the office; for instance, as a place to file a report.
"If she's going into or coming out of the fire station, and somebody contacts her, no, she's not likely stop and report that contact," Karnick said.
'Great person, great officer'
Karnick said that what stood out to her in interviewing and recommending Sebena for the force was her personality and clear dedication to the service.
"She was very personable in her interviews," Karnick said. "She was attentive to the interview, but comfortable and confident. She was not too nervous – just the right amount.
"She seemed to have a really good, well-rounded personality, and a maturity that was remarkable. She was older than a lot of recruits just out of school. She was mature, confident, easy to communicate with.
"And she was a caring person," Karnick said. "She really wanted to do a good job at law enforcement. She was somebody who could empathize with other people."
Sebena was injured during recruit training school, Karnick said — a not uncommon occurence — and that delayed her start as a probationary officer.
"She was really disappointed that she couldn't start work," Karnick said.
Lt. Witkowski, besides being public communications officer for the Wauwatosa police, is also its training coordinator, and was even more involved in Sebena's addition to the force.
"Great person, great officer," Witkowski said. "Our hearts are really heavy. You just can't believe something like this could happen. This is just an unbelievable act. This has touched everyone in our department ... especially at this time."
Even before she became a sworn officer, Sebena was showing how much she cared about the community. In April 2011, when the 22 recruits in her MATC officer training class No. 81 gave a hand to the Hunger Task Force in sorting 14,000 pounds of food, Sebena wrote up an article for the the school newspaper, the MATC Times, and took a picture of her class in community action.
"Class #81 made the decision to volunteer with the Hunger Task Force because of the immense impact the organization has made by supplying basic needs in the local community," Sebena wrote. "Since the class already had strong ties to varying local communities, they were enthusiastic about volunteering together to make a positive difference.
"All 22 members of class #81 had a hand in ensuring that the donated products would make it to those in need."