Almost 100 people gathered solemnly Friday in downtown Columbus to pay their respects to police officers nationwide who died in the line of duty over the past 12 months.
The names of the 146 who had fallen were read by Julie Quesenbery, Columbus East High School school resource officer for the Columbus Police Department, during the annual tribute at the plaza near Second and Jackson streets.
Alan Trisler said he knows what was going on in the minds of many officers during the ceremony.
“You realize it’s just fate or luck that there’s aren’t more names you know,” said Trisler, long-time president of Fraternal Order of Police Local 89 who retired this spring as a Columbus police officer. “You also realize that it could happen to you anytime, anywhere.”
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The most recent Indiana officer to die in the line of duty was Howard County Sheriff’s Department deputy Carl Koontz, 27, who was shot and killed March 20, 2016, while serving arrest and search warrants in connection to a narcotics case. Since it’s been more than a year since Koontz died, his name was not read during this year’s ceremony.
Even without a specific Hoosier connection, police chaplain Nita Evans was able to capture the reason for the local observance, Columbus Police Lt. Matt Harris said.
“May those still serving remember well the price the fallen have paid,” Evans said during the ceremony’s closing prayer. “Give us the courage to still carry on, to care, and to not be vengeful and bitter.”
“With the criticism law enforcement receives today, those names (of fallen officers) illustrate the lethal possibility of the job,” Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde said after the ceremony. “It’s just disheartening to hear so many names read year after year.”
It was in recognition of those who sacrificed their lives that local police officers traveled south last July to attend memorial services for five Dallas, Texas, officers and three from Baton Rouge, Louisiana — who died during separate incidents in the line of duty, Harris said.
About 50 officers from multiple law enforcement agencies, along with officials from the Columbus Fire Department, stared straight ahead in their dress uniforms with arms at their sides as Quesenbery read the names.
During the same period, seven members of an Indiana State Police unit who gave a 21-gun salute bowed their heads and folded their hands in reflection and respect.
Following the salute and prayer, all remained still as a trumpet sounded taps and two bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.”
The audience included people from different walks of life, including a brother and sister who have attended each officer tribute since moving to Columbus 18 years ago.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have lived all over this country, but the relationship our officers have with this community is so very different from other places I’ve lived,” said Mike Burchyett of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. “What they do every day is a big part of what creates such a wonderful environment for us.”
“We are so appreciative of what these officers do for us,” said his sister, Leigh Burchyett. “We feel it’s the very least we can do to show up and honor them on this day.”
While no Bartholomew County public safety officer among those killed in the line of duty, 426 Hoosier policemen and policewomen have lost their lives in service of their community, according to the “Officer Down Memorial Page.”
The following are listed by the website as the causes of death for the fallen Hoosier officers:
Aircraft accident: 3
Automobile crash: 41
Bicycle accident: 2
Duty-related illness: 1
Intentional gunfire: 242
Accidental gunfire: 11
Heart attack: 17
Heat exhaustion: 1
Motorcycle crash: 14
Struck by train: 1
Struck by vehicle: 22
Vehicle pursuit: 23
Vehicular assault: 19
Since 1933, five Indiana State Police troopers who served Bartholomew County and other areas of south central Indiana have lost their lives while on duty.
- Trooper George A. Forster died May 17, 1941, in an automobile crash on State Road 3 near Paris Crossing in Jennings County.
- Trooper Earl L. Brown died Aug. 31, 1955, after being shot by a suspicious person who was walking on the old U.S. 31 (State Road 11) near Columbus.
- Trooper Robert C. Gillespie died June 8, 1962, in an automobile crash while en route to a call for assistance in the town of Mitchell.
- Trooper William R. Rayner died Dec. 18, 1966, after being shot by a suspect in a stolen vehicle in Decatur County.
- Trooper Andrew P. Winzenread died April 25, 1997, after being struck by a semi-tractor trailer after stopping to assist a disabled motorist on I-74 in Decatur County.
They will be remembered and honored during an 11 a.m. ceremony May 24 at the Indiana State Police post in Versailles.