The microscopic virus that spurred a global pandemic has impacted every public event, regardless of how longstanding the tradition – including the 32nd Annual Candlelight Vigil, the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum’s flagship ceremony that honors the year’s fallen law enforcement officers. On March 18, 2020, the organization’s CEO, Marcia Ferranto, announced that no Washington, DC, annual Police Week events would not be held, but that the traditional Candlelight Vigil would be carry on virtually.
“You have our commitment that the fallen will not be forgotten, and we will not rest until they receive the honor that they so rightfully deserve,” Marcia Ferranto, CEO, NLEOMF
Less than two months later, on May 13, 2020, the virtual Candlelight Vigil was live streamed across 11 platforms, including those of the Memorial and Museum’s lead sponsor and broadcast partner, Verizon.
The resulting program proved that the law enforcement community of active and retired officers, surviving families and agencies, and the nation’s public is one that unifies even in the most extraordinary of circumstances to honor our fallen heroes.
Traditionally held on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and attended by 30,000 people each year, the Candlelight Vigil is marked by the announcement of all the officers whose names were added to the Memorial that year. Each of the officers added were killed in the line of duty the prior year or discovered during research.
In contrast, the virtual 32nd Annual Candlelight Vigil was viewed by more than 300,000 from all over the world that evening, with an additional 100,000 views over the following 48 hours. The video recording is still being shared, watched, and re-watched as this is being written. With the broadcast’s greatest viewership on Facebook, one can’t help but feel a part of something much bigger, as comments from all parts of the country and world streamed alongside the screen. The comments section was part roll call, part tribute wall, and a place of connection for all who were present.
Answering the call
Knowing that the audience of the virtual experience would include many unfamiliar with the traditional Candlelight Vigil, a plan was put together to create a virtual Vigil that included stories of the fallen and experiences from survivors and special tributes to lend context and impact to the traditional reading of the names that were engraved in the Memorial wall this year.
With limited time to pull the event together, staff at NLEOMF put out a call to actors, celebrities, government officials, and corporations that have a shared commitment to law enforcement. The call was answered by more than 40 such American icons, and thanks to long-time television producer, DC-based Lynn Kessler, the results cut right to the heart of the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum’s true north.
Stories from the field
The Vigil opened with the story of Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal, the first observant Sikh in the Harris County, TX, Sheriff’s Office and the trailblazer who bridged communities. Dhaliwal was shot during a traffic stop and died September 27, 2019. Offering a glimpse into what made this deputy unique helped to give perspective as the names of the fallen were read during the Vigil.
Throughout the Vigil, viewers heard the emotional stories from survivors of fallen officers. Detective Shawna McClure shared how she learned of her coworker, Officer Kerrie Orozco’s shooting and rushed to find her on the scene, only to watch her die in her arms. Julie Carnesi spoke of her big brother, K-9 Officer Kevin Tonn, her hero who loved dogs and always wanted to be in law enforcement. In the small town of Galt (CA) where he served, his death made a huge impact. Stacy Allan shared how much losing her husband and best friend, Lieutenant Aaron Allen, on their son’s first day of kindergarten, changed her life.
Roll call of heroes
Holding the Vigil virtually provided a deep opportunity for viewers to learn about the fallen during the traditional roll call of the heroes. As each fallen officer’s name was read, their image was displayed on the screen with their agency and end of watch date. This was a distinct change from the years past when the names were announced without any personal information on display. This was widely well received and helped to engage those viewers who weren’t personally connected to the recently fallen.
From the moment the virtual Vigil was announced, the support and appreciation from the law enforcement community for the Memorial has been palpable. Understanding messages have been posted and sent supporting the need to be virtual and appreciating the organization’s commitment to its mission of honoring the fallen and ensuring they are not forgotten. Regardless of the health crisis, the restrictions on public gatherings, or what else the future may hold, the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum will continue to deliver on its mission.
If you have not yet watched the 2020 Candlelight Vigil, you can access it here.