The parade of different uniforms, patches, badges, caps and award ribbons leading into the Memorial grounds is stunning. In many instances, the symbols are legendary: the checkerboard hat band of the Chicago Police Department, the LAPD’s distinctive silver shield, the rising phoenix of the Phoenix PD shoulder patch, the London Metropolitan Police bobby hats. No two uniforms are alike, just as no two agencies are alike.
But on this night, as they prepare for the 21st Annual Candlelight Vigil, their commonalities are greater than their differences – the black mourning bands, the white gloves, and the unmistakable feeling of solidarity and camaraderie.
With motorcycles escorting them, the first buses of family members and loved ones of the fallen officers began arriving shortly after six o’clock. As is tradition, the survivors are given a rose and escorted through a line of uniformed officers at attention to special seating up front. Some of the children wore kid-sized police uniforms. Nearby, volunteers handed out candles and programs.
As a career criminal justice official, as well as the older brother of a retired police lieutenant, Eric Holder understands the importance of protecting our law enforcement officers and honoring those who have fallen in the performance of duty. On Wednesday night, the 82nd Attorney General of the United States led the lighting of candles and read the first names of the 387 newly engraved officers on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC – seven fallen heroes from the state of Alabama.
“Tonight we hold a vigil, but every day we must be vigilant,” he said. Holder was the keynote speaker at the 21st Annual Candlelight Vigil.
Standing adjacent to Panel 40-East, Kelly Gaudet (pronounced Go – Day) recalls one of the happiest days of her life. It was back in late 2000 when she went on a ride-along with her son, Gainesville (FL) Police Officer Scott Baird. She could see how excited Scott was to be a police officer and, despite having just finished his rookie year, how good he was at it. Two months later, Scott was struck and killed by a vehicle as he was trying to remove an obstruction in the roadway – a batting cage stolen from a local high school and left in the road as a prank.
Kelly had always dreamed of being a police officer herself. Following her son’s death she decided to fulfill that dream. With Scott as her inspiration, she now has two years with the Gainesville Police Department – “Scott’s department,” as she calls it. She understands that hers is a compelling human interest story, but even now, at her eighth consecutive National Police Week, she insists that “it’s all about Scott.”
For the first time, people across the country – indeed around the world, including some in England and Ireland – were able to witness the Candlelight Vigil. Through a partnership with Officer.com, the NLEOMF provided a free live videocast of the ceremony in its entirety. Some 4,000 people registered for the online event.
In addition to watching the feed live, people were able to chat with one another and to scroll through the 387 names that were being read aloud by the Attorney General, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and many others. It was a quiet and respectful conclusion to an evening of great emotion and remembrance.