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Certainties of the Annual Ceremony to Fallen Officers: Sorrowful Remembrance, and More Victims

| May 6, 2014

Four Flagler County Sheriff's deputies were remembered at the annual ceremony to the fallen on Tuesday. (FCSO)

Four Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies were remembered at the annual ceremony to the fallen on Tuesday. (FCSO)

The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s grounds Tuesday morning were the site of one the year’s most solemn public gatherings—the annual ceremony in memory of fallen law enforcement officers, locally and nationwide.

Two certainties always mark the occasion: first, that the ceremony will be held, as it has been annually in innumerable localities and in the nation’s capital—since John F. Kennedy declared May 15 as the National Police Officer Memorial Day in 1962. And second, that by this fifth month of the year, the nation will have already recorded another grim tally of officers killed in the line of duty. The number so far this year: 38, the latest of whom in Florida was Chelsea Richard, 30, a nine-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol. She was killed Saturday afternoon on I-75, near mile marker 341, as she was investigating a wreck at that location. A pick-up truck pulling a trailer plowed into her, a family member involved in the earlier accident and a tow truck driver, killing all three. She had a 4-year-old son. Richard is the third law enforcement officer in Florida to be killed in the line of duty this year.

Rober German, 31, of the Windemere Police Department, was shot and killed on March 22 while investigating the suspicious activities of two people. Gunfire continued as additional police officers arrived at the scene and extracted German from the area. Two suspects in the shooting were found dead across the street from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Jonathan Pine, 34, a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed as he was investigating car break-ins in a gated community in South Apopka on Feb. 11. The suspect in that shooting was also reported to have committed suicide after fleeing on foot and firing several shots.

Seven K-9 officers have also been killed so far this year nationwide.

Sgt. Michael Fink speaking this morning. (FCSO)

Sgt. Michael Fink speaking this morning. (FCSO)

“Their mission as is ours was to unselfishly protect and serve,” the Flagler County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Fink told the gathering in Bunnell this morning, after an invocation by Bunnell Pastor Daisy Henry. “I am very humbled to be standing here today before you as we come together to pay respect to those names that appear on our monument. We also remember those nationwide who have made that ultimate sacrifice, and to reassure them that they are not forgotten.”

Some 900,000 law enforcement officers serve across the United States, Fink said. “Our national law enforcement memorial in Washington D.C. bears the names of more than 20,000 law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty. This year the names of 286 heroes who were either killed in the line of duty in 2013 or whose past heroic deeds went unrecognized, will have their names engraved for eternity into the two, 304-feet long marble walls. Unfortunately next year will be no different form those of the past.”

Of the recently killed, Fink said: “When I think about these young men and women, the loss to their families, to their fellow officers, to their communities, I remember the feelings that I had in the days following the deaths of deputy Sease and Sgt. Celico.” Fink was referring to Chuck Sease, the first law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty in Flagler County in 75 years—killed on July 5, 2003, as he was placing stop sticks on I-95 to stop an out of control drunk driver. And to Frank Celico, the Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy who died in 2011 of heart problems.  “The impact that it had on me, the feelings of shock, hopelessness, and the emptiness,” Fink continued. “But I recall the sense of strength and pride that seeing all the officers from across the state standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with the members of our local emergency services. They were standing as one, paying their respects.”

Undersheriff Rick Staly, who emceed the proceedings this morning, then read a 2013 poem by Barry Hillstead, a sheriff in South Dakota. The poem is called “This Old Badge,” and concludes: “This Old Badge is steeped in Honor,/This Old Badge is filled with Pride/And I’ll treasure the Life it game me/Until the very day I die.”

Staly then recognized the families of the fallen in Flagler, “who deeply shared our loss that forever changed their lives by losing their loved one—a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a daughter, or a son.” He named recited the names, and as he did so, a deputy would walk a red rose to the monument to the fallen at the entrance of the sheriff’s building while bagpipes played in the near distance: Sheriff Perry Hall, killed on Aug. 21, 1927; Deputy Gregory Durrance, killed on Aug. 25, 1927, Charles “Chuck” Sease, July 5, 2003, and Sgt. Frank Celico, Sept. 9, 2011.

Sheriff Jim Manfre was especially thankful to the families of the fallen, who he said stand with the fallen, and with the agencies, in duties of their own.

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