December 9, 2009 in City

Crowds pay respects to four fallen officers

Nearly 20,000 law enforcement officers among mourners
Seattle Times
 
Lui Kit Wong Tacoma News Tribune photo

Caskets of four fallen officers are escorted into the Tacoma Dome through the “cordon of honor” on Tuesday. Tacoma News Tribune
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

TACOMA – Moving tributes to the four slain Lakewood, Wash., police officers were delivered by co-workers, friends and their children at Tuesday’s memorial service at the Tacoma Dome.

Austin Richards, the 16-year-old son of Greg Richards, said his father viewed his job as an honor despite the stresses inherent to law enforcement work.

“He didn’t become more hardened or angry, just more thankful,” Richards said. “I guess you could say he didn’t see the point in anger.”

In moments heart-wrenching and funny, Michael Villa described Sgt. Mark Renninger tracking a suspect without the help of a K-9 unit, twice guessing correctly which way the suspect had fled.

“I remember thinking, ‘Who is this guy? We don’t need a K-9 unit. We have the man tracker on our crew,’ ” said Villa, now the assistant police chief in Tukwila.

Tina Griswold was described by her friend as being a dedicated mother, good cook and as tough an officer – pound-for-pound – as could be found. “The fastest way to break up a bar fight was to throw Tina in the middle of it,” said Pamela Battersby, Griswold’s friend.

Ronnie Owens’ sister, Ronda LaFrancois, remembered her brother hamming it up in high school, break dancing on the kitchen floor and singing Barry Manilow songs.

“You could never go anywhere with Ronnie without someone knowing who he was,” said LaFrancois. Owens, she said, had been looking forward to watching his young daughter’s first basketball season.

After a 20-minute video full of snapshots of four officers’ childhoods, weddings, family moments and on-the-job events, Gov. Chris Gregoire said the state would honor their memory by continuing to support law enforcement.

“We will remember them today. We will remember them always. We owe these children – all nine of them – a future that is safe and secure,” Gregoire said.

The eulogies were delivered on a stage surrounded by four flag-draped caskets and a crowd of nearly 20,000 law enforcement officers, who watched mostly in silence, except for moments of applause and laughter.

The memorial service began as officers from around North America crisply saluted the families – including the nine children – of the slain officers as they were seated for a service expected to last more than three hours.

The memorial was preceded by a procession of about 2,000 law enforcement vehicles, red-and-blue lights flashing, that began at 10:05 a.m. It crawled along a somber, 10.3-mile route from McChord Air Force Base to the Tacoma Dome.

The procession, which took three and a half hours, was so sprawling that the tail end was still at the base at 1:30 p.m., a half-hour after the memorial was scheduled to begin. The service began more than an hour later than planned.

Gregoire had called it “the darkest day in the history of law enforcement in Washington.”

The enormous contingent represented more than 300 agencies and thousands of law enforcement officers, among them an estimated 600 from British Columbia, 100 each from Chicago and New York, and others from Boston, Bozeman, Salem, and every corner of Washington state. FBI Director Robert Mueller planned to attend.

One of last vehicles in the procession, from the Delta Police Department near Vancouver, B.C., flew Canadian and U.S. flags side by side.

Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Tina Griswold, Gregory Richards and Ronnie Owens were gunned down by Maurice Clemmons on Nov. 29 at a Pierce County coffee shop. It was worst attack on law enforcement in the state’s history.

About 19,200 law enforcement officers had been anticipated at the memorial, making it the biggest such event in state history.

With so many law enforcement and political leaders gathered, there were extensive security preparations, including sweeps of the Tacoma Dome beginning Monday night. Heavily armed SWAT team members patrolled the perimeter of the arena, while camouflaged snipers were in position on the roof.

After leaving McChord Air Force Base under a bright, sunny sky, the long line of cars stopped at the Lakewood police station, where several hundred people gathered outside in 23-degree cold. A large American flag hung from crossed fire ladders erected by the University Place Fire Department.

“We’re here to respect the officers and to show our support,” said Everett police officer Gregory Sutherland, 37, a 15-year veteran who was waiting to join the procession. “There’s a real sense of commonality, even with people you don’t know. Because of the profession, this is the ultimate sacrifice these guys made.”

The procession was joined there by a motorcade of hearses and limousines carrying the fallen officers and their families as well as four Lakewood police cruisers, each with a black band over the front door in the officers’ memory.

Hundreds lined a stretch of South Tacoma Way to observe the funeral procession. Some held flags, others held signs, officers saluted as cars passed, some people took photos and videos, some stood with their hands over their hearts and some stood and wept quietly. Officers touched their hands to their car windows as they passed.

Roxanne Clouse, barely able to speak without weeping, said she “wanted to be a part of this, support the ones who are here and let them know they all matter. I’m here to feel the cold for those that can’t.”

The sight of the four hearses brought home the tragedy for some of the onlookers. Eileen Melberg, who works at a law firm along the route, said seeing the flag-draped coffins made her gasp. “This isn’t a picture. This is a person who should still be alive.”


There is one comment on this story. Click here to view comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email