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Kris Bieniewicz and her sons Josh Bieniewicz, 9, and Kyle Bieniewicz, 14, show bracelets they wear in memory of her husband and their father John Bieniewicz, who died in July after being punched while refereeing during a soccer game in Livonia, Mich. / Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press

WESTLAND, Mich. -- After his father's death, Kyle Bieniewicz began wearing his dad's running shoes.

His younger brother, Josh, started sporting his father's sunglasses.

And bracelets honoring the 44-year-old Westland husband and father, who died after he was punched two months ago during an adult soccer game, have been permanent fixtures on both boys, ages 14 and 9, as well as their mother, Kris Bieniewicz.

"I want the kids to remember him and be proud of him as much as he was proud of them," she said.

John Bieniewicz died on July 1, days after witnesses said he was knocked unconscious while refereeing a game in Livonia, Mich., by a 36-year-old player about to be ejected.

On Saturday, a fund-raiser is being held for the Bieniewicz family. The Plymouth Whalers play the Windsor Spitfires in an exhibition hockey game, with ticket sales also benefiting the Michigan Concerns of Police Survivors, an organization that provides support to families and coworkers of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

Kris Bieniewicz, 45, called the support her family has received since her husband's death overwhelming and said it shows there's "more good than bad in the world."'

Donations totaling more than $168,000 poured into a GoFundMe site, which she hopes to use to pay for college for her sons. Other fund-raisers brought in thousands more, an anonymous donor paid Josh's fourth-grade tuition at a parochial school, and the family received messages from people throughout the world.

"The community as a whole was certainly touched by his commitment to his family and outraged in what occurred," Livonia Police Chief Curtis Caid said. "It was clear that they wanted to do something to help the family."

The Bieniewicz family will be introduced at the game Saturday, a moment of silence is planned, and there will be a ceremonial puck drop, said Denise Ronayne, director of sales and marketing for the team.

"It's just a great way to start the game and have everybody in the right mind-set for exactly why we're here," she said.

Hard to comprehend

The morning of June 29 started out like many others: John left the house to referee. He worked several games a week on top of his job at the pediatric chronic dialysis unit at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor to bring in extra money for his family.

When Kris Bieniewicz returned home from church that Sunday, she thought she might find her husband at home already, but he wasn't there.

Then the phone rang. The caller ID said Livonia Police Department.

An officer explained John had been seriously hurt at the soccer field and a helicopter would be transporting him to Detroit Receiving Hospital.

"I couldn't breathe," his wife recalled.

She made it to the hospital before the helicopter. There, a detective told her that John had been punched during the game, she said.

"How did this even happen ... it didn't make any sense," Kris Bieniewicz thought. "Who would get that upset in the middle of a game to haul off and slug a ref?"

Two months later, it's still hard to comprehend.

There are times - usually when Kris Bieniewicz is alone delivering Detroit Free Press and Detroit News newspapers on the route she once shared with her husband - that her mind starts to wander, and she worries about the situation she is suddenly facing, raising her two boys without their dad.

She said she tries to remain strong to show her sons "we're not going to let the evilness that took place beat us. ... We're going to persevere through it."

A price 'he has to pay'

Bassel Saad of Dearborn has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Bieniewicz's homicide. He remains behind bars on a $1 million bond and is scheduled to go on trial in Wayne County Circuit Court on Dec. 8.

"He's very sorry for his actions," said Ali Hammoud, Saad's attorney. "He never thought in a million years that he would kill anyone."

Saad, the owner of an area auto repair business with two young daughters, feels bad that Bieniewicz's two sons have to live without their father, Hammoud said.

"He's a father himself, and he understands how important a father figure is in a child's life," he said.

Kris Bieniewicz and several adult family members attended Saad's preliminary examination in Livonia last month. Saad kept his head facing down, occasionally wiping his eyes during it.

"I just didn't feel those tears were being sorry for what he did," Kris Bieniewicz said. "I think he's more sorry for the predicament that he's in."

She said her "jaw hit the floor" when Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Raj Prasad said Saad had punched a player numerous times in the back of the head in 2005. A judge did not allow the information to be included during the hearing.

The defense contends that what happened was involuntary manslaughter, not murder, Hammoud said. Prosecutors have argued the second-degree murder charge is correct and said Bieniewicz was sucker-punched.

Kris Bieniewicz said she thinks Saad should "go away for a long time" and said Saad should have known a horrible outcome could result from the punch.

"There should definitely be a price that he has to pay for what he did," she said.

A promise to husband

John and Kris Bieniewicz met in the mid '90s. She coached women's basketball at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and he drove the team to games on a bus.

The two talked during trips, married in 1998 and honeymooned at Disney World, returning to the theme park after the births of their children.

Bieniewicz never regained consciousness after he was hit. His organs were donated, which was his wish in part because of what he saw working at the hospital.

"He saw kids that, until a kidney could be donated, they were on dialysis," Kris Bieniewicz said.

In some of her final words to her husband, whose life revolved around his children, Kris Bieniewicz promised she would do everything she can to make him proud of his children.

"That's what I do," she said wiping tears from her eyes. "I will bend over backwards to raise those kids the best I can."



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: After soccer referee's death, wife and sons persevere

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