By C.V. Moore
Police and community members took time Wednesday to pause and memorialize.
“These are men and women who had a calling for peace in a world full of darkness, those who chose to represent a thin blue line that runs through that darkness,” Lt. R.S. Prince of the Oak Hill Police Department, who served as master of ceremonies, told the gathered crowd.
He stood on the porch of the Fayette County Courthouse before white flower bouquets and sparkling blue ribbons laced around the stair rails.
“This line represents our peacekeepers, our brotherhood and sisterhood of warriors. ... The line that stands between good and evil. ... It is thin because few dare to stand it, outnumbered but united,” he said.
National Peace Officers Memorial Day is held every year on May 15, part of National Police Week. The holiday was created by John F. Kennedy in 1962 to honor local, state and federal officers.
The local ceremony is sponsored by the Fayette County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 118. One officer in attendance who has attended for many years estimated the ceremony has taken place for at least 30 years.
So far, in 2013, the nation has seen 41 line of duty deaths, a figure that is up 21 percent from this time last year. In 2012, 120 died in total.
“Each and every day, police officers ... step out the doors of their homes with a quiet courage and conviction to shield us from harm,” said Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, a former sheriff and the event’s featured speaker.
The prosecuting attorneys from Fayette and Greenbrier counties read a roll call of all the officers from West Virginia who died in the line of duty, reaching back to the 19th century.
Three officers from West Virginia who died in 2012 were added to that list of fallen on Wednesday.
Sgt. Michael Todd May of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department died Feb. 28, 2012, rammed in his patrol car by an assailant during a vehicle pursuit.
Cpl. Marshall Lee Bailey and Trooper Eric Michael Workman were both shot at the end of August after they stopped a vehicle for reckless driving in Clay County. The routine stop turned deadly when the driver pulled out a concealed pistol and opened fire.
“It is not the danger that can be seen or foretold that is often our fate,” Laird reminded those gathered.
This year began with another tragic loss, as Sheriff Eugene Crum of Mingo County was shot to death while eating lunch in his car.
Sparked by the wounding of Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy John Westfall, who was saved by a bulletproof vest during the same shooting that killed Bailey and Workman, the West Virginia Legislature this year passed a bill that requires the purchase and replacement of bulletproof vests for all sheriff’s departments.
"As the year 2013 progresses, I pray each and every law enforcement officer returns home safely at the end of every shift,” said Prince.
He also addressed the families of the fallen officers, people like Susie Smith of Sophia, whose son, Chuck, a Beckley officer, was killed in the line of duty in 2006.
“You are not alone,” he told them.
Smith, who attends the ceremony every year, spoke with reporters afterwards and said she is proud of her son and what he stood for.
“Although we are here to remember the fallen, it’s important to recognize the officers that carry on the fight,” she said.
Prince closed his speech with words from the Book of Matthew: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Fayette County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Legg, the “Singing Bailiff” of Fayette County, sang “Amazing Grace,” and Sonja Wood of the Town of Fayetteville also offered song.
The attendees who gathered on the courthouse lawn under shade trees included not only families of fallen officers, but also courthouse employees and ordinary community members who came to pay their respects.
Suzette Hardy of Oak Hill is one of the latter, a former paramedic who worked closely with law enforcement before a tragic auto accident nearly claimed her life.
“They never know what that call will entail or what danger they will face,” she said. “We’re all one breath from eternity.”
Lisa Ferrell-Kesterson, a magistrate’s assistant who formerly worked for the Fayetteville Police Department, has been the event’s main organizer since 2003
“They pour their heart and soul into the job and put their lives on the line every day and it’s my way of honoring them,” she said. “It’s just really an honor. It’s the least I can do for what they do for us.”
Laird reminded the hushed crowd that it’s not how the officers died that should be remembered, but how they lived their lives.
“And for this we can be grateful,” he said.
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