25 Years Later: Saluting a Fallen Hero and His Amazing Family

When the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was dedicated on October 15, 1991, one of the more than 12,600 names initially engraved on the monument was Christopher Eney, a sergeant with the United States Capitol Police. Sergeant Eney was killed in a training accident in August 1984, the first member of the U.S. Capitol Police to die in the line of duty.

That October day, the name of another member of the Eney family — Chris’s wife, Vivian — was also unveiled on the Memorial. Over the years, her name — along with her succinct, yet incredibly powerful quote engraved under the lion statue in the monument’s northwest corner — have been read by millions of people: “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.”

On Tuesday, August 18, Vivian, her two daughters, Shannen and Heather, and other family members joined U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse; Kevin Morison, NLEOMF Senior Director of Communications; and other officers, friends and supporters at the Memorial for a 25th anniversary remembrance of Sergeant Christopher Eney. Vivian and Chief Morse laid a wreath at the Memorial’s center medallion, and Vivian, her daughters and several of her grandchildren then placed roses in the wreath. During the ceremony, Chief Morse also announced that the Chamber Training Venue within the Capitol Police’s Practical Applications Center in Cheltenham, MD, is being named in Sergeant Eney’s honor. The chamber mimics a house of Congress and is used to train officers for emergency response operations within the Capitol.

NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig Floyd, a longtime friend of Vivian and her family, was unable to attend the ceremony. He did compose the following note, which Kevin Morison read at the event.

Dear Vivian and Family:

I deeply regret that I cannot be there with you in person as we honor and remember the 25th anniversary of Chris’s line-of-duty death. Thank you, though, for allowing me the privilege of sharing a few thoughts on this special occasion.

I will always remember that it was you, Vivian, who taught me the importance of building the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. You impressed upon me just how much mere notes or other expressions of condolence mean to the loved ones of officers who make the ultimate sacrifice. I realized then how meaningful a lasting national monument with their loved one’s name would be to a survivor.

I want to take this opportunity to also tell you what wonderful role models you, Shannen and Heather have been to others who have followed in your footsteps. As the only three-year National President of Concerns of Police Survivors, you reached out a helping hand to many in need of comfort and support. The way all of you have lived your life, putting the shattered pieces back together again and finding joy in the many blessings that have come your way since Chris’s death, is an inspiration to us all.

Vivian, you were among a handful of leaders who turned the dream of this national monument to reality. You were the deciding voice in favor of the lion statues — and what a stroke of genius they turned out to be! And, of course, it is your poignant quote on these walls that has explained to millions of visitors the essence of this monument: “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.”

Finally, let me share an observation about Phil Morse, Dan Nichols, Doug Shugars and the entire U.S. Capitol Police family. You have brought great honor to your department and set the example for others by the way you have always remembered and paid tribute to Chris and his family. You were always there at the graduations, the weddings and other milestone moments, and you are here once again today.

When I told Vivian I was to speak to a Capitol Police Academy Class last year, she said, “Give them a message from me. Tell them the Capitol Police were always there for me and my family, and they will always be there for you and yours.”

Each day a framed commemorative print with images of Chris Eney, J.J. Chestnut and John Gibson overlooking the Capitol greets me as I enter my office. It inspires me to work as hard as I can every day to honor the law enforcement profession and all who serve. And, for good measure, I often stop by Panel 1W-Line 8 and think about what Chris Eney has meant to his family, his community and his country. He and his fallen colleagues will always be honored and never forgotten.