One Year After His Death, New Jersey Community Continues To Honor US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, Who Died After Jan. 6 Insurrection


South River, New Jersey will never let the memory of fallen U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick fade away.

South River High School students are taking the lead to preserve the memory of Sicknick, who suffered two strokes and died after he confronted rioters at the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. His body lay in honor in the Capitol Rotunda before his cremated remains were buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I was trying to come up with something we could do to get students involved and recognize his service,” said Ellen Tschopp, a teacher and Interact Club advisor at the school and a friend of Sicknick’s mom, Gladys, who still lives in the borough. “We wanted it to have some relationship to Brian. This has been extremely difficult for the family, who has always been proud of their son’s service to his country.”

Sicknick, who grew up in South River, attended Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools’ East Brunswick Campus. He joined the New Jersey Air National Guard the year he graduated. Sicknick deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1999 in support of Operation Southern Watch. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he served in Kyrgyzstan, in support of the war in Afghanistan. He was honorably discharged in 2003.

Sicknick lived in Springfield, Virginia, but his death was felt in his hometown.

Last spring Tschopp reached out to the high school’s National Honor Society advisor Valerie Olcott asking if she knew of any students who were looking for projects to lead.

Three juniors eagerly volunteered.

Club member Diana Eleto got involved after Olcott suggested it would be a good opportunity for leadership.

“I did my research and that’s what really pulled me in,” Eleto said. “I felt like Brian Sicknick deserved recognition for his service and my heart broke reading the interviews and articles his mom and girlfriend did. I really just wanted to do something to make his mom feel proud of the town she lives in. I wanted her to know that the town recognizes him as an important member of our community.”

Over the summer, Tschopp met with Eleto and club members Alex Vasilev and Connor Kosa to discuss “some meaningful things” that could be done. She also reached out to Sicknick’s mother for suggestions.

They came up with three projects.

Eleto would lead efforts to create the Brian Sicknick Memorial Garden, Vasilev would organize Brian Sicknick Community Clean Up days and Kosa would lead efforts to raise money and supplies that would be donated in Sicknick’s name to a to-be-determined animal shelter.

The trio was assisted in their endeavors by members of the Interact Club.

In November, a memorial garden was planted in Sicknick’s honor at Volunteer’s Park.

Eleto said she decided to lead the memorial garden project because Tschopp had told her that Sicknick’s mom loves to walk around the borough and she knew that gardens interested her.

“When I got to meet her, I was even happier with my choice because she told me that she would bring Officer Sicknick to Volunteer’s Park when he was little, something that I could tell meant a lot to her,” Eleto said.

Eleto said she also felt that the garden “could be a good representation of his life, something beautiful.”

Funds also were raised to purchase a plaque for the garden.

“We expect to hold a dedication at the garden in the spring,” Tschopp said.

Two Brian Sicknick Community Clean Up days have already been held in the borough, Tschopp said. With borough permission, the first cleanup was held in October at Dailey’s Pond Park.

“We also received assistance from the borough’s Department of Public Works, which was a big help,” Tschopp added.

In November, a second cleanup was done on school grounds.

“Alex is also planning to hold two additional cleanups in the spring – each at a different park in the borough,” Tschopp said.

Knowing that Sicknick was an animal lover, the group also decided to help an animal shelter by making donations in Sicknick’s name.

“We’ve probably raised about $600,” Tschopp said. “This month, we’re going to set up collection bins at the high school for dog and cat supplies.”

Tschopp said Sicknick’s mom is very grateful to everyone who participated in the projects.

“When we did the park cleanup, she joined us,” Tschopp said. “After the garden was done, she visited it and was even watering the flowers. It does mean a lot to her. She is very happy that something is being done to remember her son. I’m extremely proud of the dedication of these students and their enthusiasm and hard work in taking the lead on these projects.”

South River High School Principal Edward Bucior said he is proud of the students.

“These kids are great,” he said. “Even in challenging times they are trying to memorialize one of their own and also take care of the community itself. I think what the kids are doing is very positive.”