NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (FOX 13) - He lost his father in the line of duty. Now, just over four years later, the son of fallen Tarpon Springs Officer Charles Kondek is following in his father's footsteps.
Wednesday, Andrew Kondek graduated from Pasco-Hernando State College Law Enforcement Academy.
From pride to honor to sadness, Kondek's family felt a full range of emotions as they watched Andrew step into the field of law enforcement - proud to see him bravely following in his father's footsteps, while, at the same time, wishing his father could be there to share in the special moment.
Every Law Enforcement Academy graduate has a reason, an inspiration, and a calling to serve and protect.
For Andrew Kondek, his calling, sadly, came with a great loss.
"I want to be just like him," he said. "If I can follow in his footsteps, do everything he did, that's all I want."
December 21st, 2014, his father, Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek was responding to a noise complaint when he was shot and killed. Kondek was 45 years old, a father of six and a 17-year veteran of the force. He'd previously served on the NYPD.
His presence was felt throughout the graduation. "Andrew," said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, "Your dad, Charlie is looking down on you and he's extremely proud and he's in all of our hearts and spirits."
Waiting for Andrew's name to be announced, his family felt many emotions. "Pride. Wishing his father was here, but, pride," said his mother Teresa Kondek. "This is what he wants to do, so, to watch him follow behind his father, that was really hard."
There were loud cheers and tears throughout that auditorium as Andrew Kondek was called to receive his diploma.
"Andrew has a lot of his father's personality for sure," Teresa Kondek said. "But, Charlie was just respectful, he was respected, very calm, knew how to talk to people."
"It's not a job, it's a calling," she continued. "And, I just want him to be the best he can be and never lose his drive to do his best."
Surrounded by family and Tarpon Springs Officers, Teresa Kondek surprised her son with his father's handcuffs, all they have left from the night he was killed. She had them engraved with the message, "Andy, pray and be safe. Love you, Dad."
"It was... I can't even put it in words," Andrew Kondek said. "It means a whole lot."
He'll carry them every shift, a daily reminder of why he wears the uniform.
"If I'm having a hard time or something like that, I think about him and think about what he would say, and basically, continue on," Andrew Kondek said.
As for his next chapter, Andrew Kondek says he hopes to end up serving with an agency in the Tampa Bay area.