Alaska Police Memorial Day
Peace officers throughout Alaska are commemorating Law Enforcement Memorial Week with services recognizing the 62 Alaska officers who have died in the line of duty in the last century.
Juneau police observed Police Memorial Day on Friday, beginning with a brief noon-time ceremony at Evergreen Cemetery.
In a cold, driving rain and high winds, officers briefly set a large red, white and blue wreath on a stand at the graveside of Richard Adair.
Lt. Kris Sell thanked those who attended for enduring the elements.
“I know that the weather is bad, but it’s always a good day to pay tribute to a hero like Richard Adair,” Sell said.
Juneau Police Officers Adair and James Kennedy were killed in 1979 as they responded to a mentally ill man who had barricaded himself in his home. They are among four Juneau police officers who have died on the job. In 1964, Officer Donald Dull was accidentally shot, and in 1991 Karl Reishus died of injuries received while helping firefighters during a training accident.
The flower wreath was promptly taken away before it could blow apart. It was among a large display of wreaths and bouquets at an evening Police Memorial Day ceremony at Thunder Mountain High School.
“It is an honor and duty for us as a law enforcement community and a city to keep our fallen officers forever a part of Juneau law enforcement community,” Officer Sarah Heib told the audience. “They are our own.”
Heib opened the ceremony with some startling statistics: Last year, 166 peace officers were killed in the Lower 48. So far this year, 36 have died; again none in Alaska.
The most recent deaths to touch JPD were in 2010, when Hoonah officers Matthew Tokuoka and Anthony Wallace were shot to death. Juneau police were among the first to respond.
Heib recalled recent events that put officers’ lives in danger, including a high speed chase last week through the Mendenhall Valley.
“I could speak about the stories where officers put their lives in danger to protect the citizens, during the last year in Juneau,” Heib said. “Earlier this week with the police car chase and the Easter shooting, which was resolved with no one being hurt physically. However, we will carry the emotional scars of that incident forever as those scars do not go away.”
On Easter Sunday, former JPD Lt. Troy Wilson opened fire on Juneau police officers who were responding to a disturbance at his home. He allegedly fired off about 75 rounds at his former JPD SWAT-team colleagues.
Ogden, Utah Police Sgt. William Cragun is a former commander and current adviser to SWAT teams worldwide. He has been pivotal in developing guidelines for police departments Special Weapons and Tactics teams, including Juneau.
Cragun knows well the impact of losing fellow officers. Within 18 months of graduating from the Utah police academy, two of his classmates were killed on duty. An emotional Cragun also told the Police Memorial Day crowd about the most recent loss at the Ogden police department.
“January 5th, 2012 of this year will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life,” Cragun said. “On that day Ogden police office Jared Francom was shot and killed.”
Francom was shot while serving a warrant for arrest. He died soon after of his injuries. He was with the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force. Five other members of the team were injured in the exchange of gunfire. The suspect was shot and apprehended.
Police officers know every day the danger they could face. The Most Reverend Edward J. Burns, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Juneau, brought the memorial service to an end with this prayer:
“May we never forget the dedication, the self-sacrifice of the law enforcement agents who have died in the line of duty,” he said. “May we never forget their commitment, their loyalty, and their dedication.”