Perhaps the envelopes poured in all week because Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero was an officer who died trying to do his job.
Maybe they came because the men who killed Prothero in a jewelry store robbery didn't have to shoot him.
Or maybe the letters -- from as far away as Staten Island, N.Y., and as close as Pikesville -- came because five young children and a grief-stricken widow have been left to deal with the loss of their father and husband.
Whatever the reason, envelopes stuffed with cash, checks, cards and thoughtful prayers flooded Baltimore County Police Lodge No. 4 in Carney and other locations all week. Businesses offered free services to the family. A radio station collected more than $30,000 from listeners and strangers drove to the lodge to hand officers money and say they were sorry.
"A mother and three small children came in Wednesday night, and when I held out my hands, they dropped $2.75 worth of quarters into them," said Officer Donna M. Patterson, who was working behind the desk at the Woodlawn Precinct, where Prothero worked. "She said she walked there all the way from Gwynns Falls. Then she apologized because she said it was all they had.
"To me, that means more than a $100 check," Patterson said. "That came from the heart."
The outpouring of grief and support began hours after Prothero, moonlighting as a security guard at J. Brown Jewelers in Pikesville, was killed by four robbers. By late Friday, more than $100,000 had been raised for his wife and children. Volunteers at the Fraternal Order of Police had tallied $53,000 and were still sorting through two days' worth of unopened mail.
And there seemed to be no end in sight.
The donations came from people Prothero had touched -- either knowingly or unknowingly -- in his 35 years. For those who came to know him after his death, there were the images of officers mourning a colleague at the scene where he was killed. There were the stories about his love for his wife, Ann, and his children: 6-year-old Holly, 4-year-old triplets Parker, Andrew and Kimberly, and 2-year-old Hannah. Then there were the tears shed by hundreds at Thursday's funeral.
A regional search continued last night for the two remaining suspects who police believe are responsible for the jewelry robbery and Prothero's subsequent slaying. Police are searching for two brothers from Baltimore, Richard Antonio Moore, 29, of the 2000 block of E. Fayette St., and Wesley John Moore, 24, of the 2700 block of The Alameda, on charges of first-degree murder.
Two other suspects -- Donald Antonio White, 19, and Troy White, 23, both of Baltimore -- were arrested last week. They are being held without bail on first-degree murder charges.
From the smallest gesture to the largest, people from around the state said they wanted Prothero's family to know there was someone out there who cared.
A card signed by more than 80 officers from the Baltimore City Police Department's Central District read, "With deepest sorrow from your family in blue."
An anonymous donor, who sent $25 in cash, scrawled a message on a piece of yellow note paper that said, "I am so sorry for your loss of your daddy. This isn't much but I hope it helps."
Volunteers at the Fraternal Order of Police opened an envelope Thursday to find a $5,000 check made out to the Protheros.
And more was on the way. Chuck Miller, a postal carrier who has delivered to FOP headquarters in Carney for 10 years, hauled in a tray loaded with mail Friday.
A lieutenant from the Cockeysville Precinct dropped off a yellow envelope containing more than $800; the precinct has contributed more than $12,000. Officers from the canine and tactical units, who stood somberly along the shoulder of Interstate 83 during Thursday's funeral procession, brought in $1,200. Cpl. Charles Schruhl and his colleagues at the Eastern Traffic Division, with help from school crossing guards, raised $400.
"Over 50 of us started the same police academy class together," said Schruhl, who graduated in 1987 with Prothero. "We thought in another 20 years, we'd all be leaving the department together. You never think something like this will happen."
Some county officers said they barely knew him. Some, like Schruhl, had not seen Prothero in years. Others said he was "the best guy you could ever know."
"I keep thinking that I'll wake up and find out that it didn't really happen," said longtime friend Detective Joan Wheeler-Felts, who works in the county's sex crimes unit. Her police investment club donated $250. "Then I realize that it actually did happen. He's going to be missed.
"And Ann will need all the help she can get."
For the thousands of law enforcement officers who donated, death is an unspoken reality that comes with the job.