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Police officer baptized by clergy couple he used to arrest

Tom Wenzl says it was ‘just absolutely peace and calm’ being lowered into the water

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

CONCRETE, Washington — During Kevin Riley’s first interaction with Tom Wenzl, Riley was pinned in the parking lot of a grocery store in the Skagit Valley in Washington state. Wenzl, then a Mount Vernon police office, arrested Riley.

“Fast forward a couple of weeks later and he arrests Danielle,” Riley said of his wife.  “So, we did not have good interactions with Tom at all.”

Kevin and Danielle Riley serve Mount Baker Presbyterian Church in Concrete, Washington, a town of 915 people. (Photo by Mike Fitzer/Film 180)

Eventually he and Danielle, who are now commissioned lay pastors at Mount Baker Presbyterian Church in Concrete, about two hours northeast of Seattle, got clean and sober.

Instead of spending time in jail, Kevin was working for the city of Mount Vernon on a work crew. That’s when Wenzl re-entered his life.

The mugshot of Kevin Riley, at left, and the officer who arrested him, Tom Wenzl. (Contributed photos)

“He decided to retire [from police work] and take over that work crew,” Riley said. “On his first day, I remember praying incessantly, ‘God, help me get through this.’”

But Wenzl didn’t even recognize Riley, until Kevin told him the story of his faith journey and sobriety. Hearing this, Wenzl placed Riley in charge of the work crew.

About two weeks later, Wenzl reminded Kevin that being on a work crew was like a jail sentence, and that he had the ability to give Riley credit-based early release, known as good time. Then he asked Riley, “How would you like tomorrow to be your last day?’  After Kevin said he’d “love that,” Wenzl told him the next day would be his last — and he’d never have to come back.

After that, Wenzl said he and Riley just kind of kept staying in touch — and each time he remembers Kevin being really strong in his faith.

“But it was always a neat relationship because he never shoved it down my throat,” Wenzl said. “He kept saying, ‘God is good and good things are happening.’  I’d say, “yeah, yeah, yeah, Kevin,” because I’d always done the right thing. I believe in Karma, you know.”

As Kevin and Danielle were getting ready to do a public information meeting at Mount Baker Presbyterian Church for a four-week homeless shelter they were preparing to host in the church, Kevin reached out to Wenzl.

 

Tom Wenzl is a former police officer who served in Mount Vernon, Washington. (Photo contributed by Kevin and Danielle Riley)

“I told him I could use his support because I was getting ready to do this meeting by myself in front of all these angry people,” Riley said. “And he came and then he started coming to church. And then he did a sermon with me on forgiveness and reconciliation.”

After Covid hit, the two would occasionally run into each other. One day, Kevin got a call from Tom, who wanted to take him out for breakfast. It turned out Wenzl had met a woman. After telling Riley that he was going to marry this woman, Wenzl said, “I’ve decided to give my life over to Jesus, and I want to get baptized.”

Danielle and Kevin Riley baptize the officer who once arrested them, Tom Wenzl. (Photo contributed by Kevin and Danielle Riley)

“All of a sudden everything just fell into place for me, from Kevin having originally planted the seed to my wife cultivating it and making it real,” Wenzl said, pausing for a moment while emotion swept over him. “Guess what? God’s real. Who would have thunk it? Almost 60 years to the day, and all of a sudden, it’s real.”

Riley said it was a beautiful day on the river the day he baptized Wenzl. When he came out of the water, Wenzl was sobbing.

“I remember being lowered into the water, and there was just absolute peace and calm,” Wenzl said. “Then I felt them trying to pull me back up. I was like, ‘I’m not ready yet. I’m liking this.’”

Tom Wenzl emerged from the waters of baptism sobbing. (Photo contributed by Kevin and Danielle Riley)

Thinking back about his relationship with Kevin and Danielle Riley — two people who’d been strung out on drugs and living in a truck — Wenzel said, “from me arresting them to now they’re probably my best friends, it’s absolutely amazing to come full circle like that.”

For Danielle Riley, this has been the whole journey for her and for Kevin: God repairing and restoring all the broken relationships and broken pieces of their lives.

“This is just one more piece of evidence of God’s power in our story,” she said. “Nobody is beyond resurrection.”

You can watch or read the first part of Kevin and Danielle’s story describing how they came to pastor Mount Baker Presbyterian Church in the Northwest Coast Presbytery. They have been clean and sober for 10 years.


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