After Police Officer Robert F. Wilson III was gunned down in March during a robbery at a GameStop store, his two young sons were automatically made eligible for Hero Scholarships for college.
Now, thanks to a new financial aid program announced Thursday, 10-year-old Quahmier and 2-year-old Robert IV are also eligible for help in attending nonpublic schools before they head to college.
Officials said the Philadelphia Police Foundation's Children of Police Scholarship (COPS) Fund would cover the costs of religious or private schools from kindergarten to eighth grade for the children of officers killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.
The program, which provides four-year scholarships to schools in the city, was launched with $300,000 in seed money from the Connelly Foundation.
At the announcement at Police Headquarters, Maureen Rush, president of the Philadelphia Police Foundation, said officers are always told: " 'We have your back.' Well, today, we can say, 'We have your family's back as well.' "
Connelly officials said the scholarship idea was born following the death of Wilson, who was killed March 5 while protecting customers at the GameStop at 2101 W. Lehigh Ave. in the Swampoodle section of North Philadelphia. Wilson had stopped in to buy a birthday gift for Quahmier when two robbers burst in with guns drawn.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he was grateful for the new scholarship program.
"This absolutely exemplifies what we're talking about when we talk about partnerships with our Police Department," he said.
The department and the Fraternal Order Police will identify the families. The FOP said Thursday seven children are currently eligible.
"The Connelly Foundation has been doing great things for years," FOP president John McNesby said. "To expand and include members of our Philadelphia police officers is a wonderful thing."
Connelly, a Conshohocken-based philanthropy that focuses on Catholic and education projects, has pledged $100,000 per year for the next three years to launch the program.
In addition, Connelly officials said that if the Police Foundation raises $100,000, it will match the amount to bring the total to $500,000.
"It's a tough time to be a police officer in Philadelphia, and a lot of times, they feel that the community doesn't appreciate them," said Tom Riley, Connelly's vice president for planning, who serves on the Police Foundation board.
"When Officer Wilson was killed, there was so much discussion about his children," Riley recalled. " 'What's going to happen?' A lot of people said they would like to help."
The program will be administered by the nonprofit Children's Scholarship Fund Philadelphia. Qualified children already enrolled in Catholic and private schools in the city could receive aid immediately.
Ina Lipman, the fund's executive director, said letters are to be sent this month to inform other families whose children are not enrolled in nonpublic schools that they are eligible for the scholarships.
"These are K-8 scholarships initially," Lipman said.
Rush, a Philadelphia police veteran who is now vice president for public safety at the University of Pennsylvania, said the Police Foundation would work to raise the $100,000 to match the Connelly challenge.
She said the foundation wants to make sure that every time an officer puts on a uniform, he or she is "going to know that, God forbid, something happens to them - they are killed or they are injured to the point where they cannot work - their family doesn't have to suffer because they went out and did some brave act."
The independent Police Foundation is involved with efforts to aid city law enforcement, and in the last two years has provided more than $1 million for training and equipment not included in the city budget, such as bulletproof vests.