ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County’s law enforcement community met on the steps of the old courthouse Wednesday morning to remember their fallen brothers in blue.
The annual Peace Officers Memorial Day Observance is held each year during National Police Week.
This year’s event comes just more than a week after an officer in Mooresville was shot and killed by a suspect during a traffic stop.
An honor guard detail lowered the flag to half staff, offered a rifle salute and played taps after Detective Lt. George Gillenwater of the Rockingham Police Department read the Police Officer’s Prayer, which was printed on the backs of the event programs.
There were also remarks by Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly and 1st Sgt. Joel Williams of the N.C. Highway Patrol.
The names of nine North Carolina officers who died in 2018 were read aloud, including Officer Jason Barton Quick of the Lumberton Police Department who was struck by a vehicle and Scotland County Deputy Alexis “Thunder” Eagle Locklear who died in a crash. The list also included three troopers with the N.C. Highway Patrol.
A memorial wreath with hat and boots was moved inside the old courthouse, which also houses the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Richmond County has had several fallen officers over the years.
Hamlet Police Chief John B. Fallow was shot and killed May 5, 1942 attempting to arrest a man who had murdered his own wife, two sisters-in-law, and nephew, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Richmond County Native Troy D. Carr, who was an Alcohol Law Enforcement Agent, was shot in killed in Fayetteville in 1994 at the age of 24.
Deputy Lee Taylor died on the job from medical issues in 2015.
New Hamlet Police Chief Tommy McMasters said he was both honored and reluctant that Sheriff James Clemmons had asked him to be the guest speaker.
“I was honored because I possess an innate proclivity to discuss law enforcement issues,” he said, “reluctant for fear of standing before you emitting a series of macabre stories or chain of events that eventually become depressing and leave us all in a somber state at best.”
According to McMasters, 18 law enforcement officers across the nation have been shot and killed in the line of duty so far this year — three of them being this month, including Jordan Sheldon, the Mooresville officer, on May 4 and officers in Mississippi and Georgia who were killed May 5 and 11, respectively.
“(That) equates to one officer being killed per week in the United States after being shot,” McMasters said. “This number doesn’t account for the officers that have lost their lives due to car crashes, heart attacks, other health issues and even worse, suicide.”
McMasters added a personal note, mentioning two officers he worked with at the Winston-Salem Police Department who were both killed: Sgt. Howard Plouff in 2007 and Sgt. Mickey Hutchens in 2009.
McMasters said he played music with Hutchens and they had discussed starting a band when Hutchens retired.
“The loss of a law enforcement officer is something we never want to hear about, but unfortunately it is something that every officer knows is a possibility,” he said.
The chief encouraged young officers to remembers the safety tacticts they were taught during basic law enforcement training:
- Wear that vest;
- Call in traffic stops;
- Approach the vehicles properly and tactically;
- Drive defensively;
- Wear that seatbelt;
- Wait for back up when feasible;
- Try to make better food choices;
- Exercise as much as possible;
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times; and
- When your “Spidey Senses” start tingling pay attention.
“When we fail to do either of these 10 items we are not only letting ourselves down, we make wives suffer, children suffer, grandchildren suffer, brothers and sisters suffer, parents suffer, friends and family suffer and your agency and law enforcement family suffer,” he said. “The fact that an officer can lose his or her life is possible, but again please let’s do our best not to make that possibility a probability.”
(Note: This story has been corrected to change the rank of Detective George Gillenwater.)