More than 500 people gathered at Beulah Baptist Church on Tuesday morning to honor fallen officers across North Carolina at the annual Peace Officers Memorial Day ceremony.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary Eddie Buffaloe Jr., and State Capitol Police Chief Roger Hawley were among the special state guests at the ceremony. Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell delivered the keynote address.

After the entrance of fallen law enforcement family members, the presentation of colors, and the national anthem, sung by the N.C. Law Enforcement Choir, Pastor Brian Burgess of Beulah Baptist delivered an invocation, saying that the world too often overlooks two significant badges — the cross on which Jesus died and of the shield that law enforcement officers wear each day.

These “dignified and honorable” badges should be looked to because “they are the way, they are the truth, and they preserve life,” said Burgess, who serves as chaplain of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office.  “Because of the darkness of our culture, we’ve overlooked these badges.”

Burgess said both stand to point the way and preserve life.

Burgess assured the assembled law enforcement officers that today they “are most valued, you are most loved, you are most cared for. You are most needed.”

The ceremony honored four North Carolina officers who choose this calling and to “lay down their life to allow light to continue to shine,” he said. “It is for this reason we continue to gather, so despair will not overwhelm but that truth and righteousness will always prevail.”

He prayed that officers, as they dressed and put on the shield of duty each morning, would be shielded from harm and “administer their duty with faithfulness, tact, and professionalism and be brought them back home safely each day.”

A lone bagpiper next accompanied the laying of the memorial wreath, accompanied by a memorial honor guard of a members from each department that lost an officer in 2023: the Raleigh Police Department, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, the Pamilco County Sheriff’s Office, and the Greensboro Police Department.

Each department representative raised a flag in honor of their fallen colleagues: Officer Gabriel Torres (RPD), Deputy Sheriff Auston “Rudy” Smith Reudelhuber (FCSO), Sergeant Russell Earl (FCSO), Lavarl Jones (PCSO), and Sergeant Philip Dale Nix (GPD).

The attorney general noted that the North Carolina Honor Roll honors the lives and public service of 558 officers who have died in the line of duty to their communities. “The tragic events of last week in Charlotte resulted in the loss of four more peace officers, fresh on all of our minds and all of our hearts. We will honor those four officers at next year’s ceremony,” Stein said.

“I also want to acknowledge five other officers who were injured, including Statesville’s own Corporal Casey Hoover. All too often we are reminded of the sacrifice our men and women in law enforcement make to keep us safe. It is right and good to honor and thank them and their families.”

Iredell County Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Joseph Crosswhite said recent events have “caused the nation to look at the sacrifice that you make every day in the service of your community and the service of others.”

He extended a welcome and thanked the families of fallen officers who allowed them the opportunity to honor them all in the service.

Buffaloe presented Gov. Roy Cooper’s Proclamation of Law Enforcement Officers’ Month and Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, which recognized that while “enduring long shifts in dangerous and unpredictable circumstances, law enforcement officers risk their lives so the communities, families, and people of our state can live in peace and security.”

He honored their “essential role in safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all North Carolinians.”

Cooper also stated that “members of law enforcement recognize their duty to serve the people of North Carolina by safeguarding life and property, by protecting against violence and disorder, and by protecting the innocent from deception and the weak from oppression and intimidation” each day.

He declared the month of May as a time to celebrate and thank law enforcement officers for their dedication and also proclaimed May 7 as Peace Officers’ Memorial Day to “pay respect to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and recognize with deep gratitude the critical contributions and sacrifices of all law enforcement officers and their families.”

Sheriff Darren Campbell delivers the keynote address.

Keynote speaker Sheriff Darren Campbell acknowledged that in 2023, 137 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty.

He then spoke directly to families, recognizing that time is now measured for them as being before and after the loss of their loved one in the line of duty. “The heartbreaking loss and the grief that follows is utterly incomprehensible,” he said.

In the past weeks, Campbell said officers have been moved by the public outpouring of support after the loss of four officers and the injury of five more. Flag-waving citizens lining the streets, spontaneous memorials, and the sound of bagpipes are comforting, but after that disappears, facing life without their loved one is a difficult challenge.

Campbell said a life in law enforcement is not easy because officers rush toward danger in an overwhelming desire to protect people that they do not even know. An equal difficulty exists for families who watch their loved ones put on the uniform and leave each day to serve and protect their community.

“However, we will never know the nightmare of answering the phone or the knock at the door to learn our worst fears have become a reality. Truly as tough as an officer’s job may be, the task of loving an officer is even more challenging,” Campbell said.

“We cannot erase your grief, repair the hole in your heart, nor fill the empty chair at your table, but we can promise to continue to honor the men and women who have lost their lives while serving our communities.

“We can promise to always be there when you need us because you are now and always will be a part of our law enforcement family. The sacrifice of your will never be forgotten.”

Campbell thanked law enforcement families for the sacrifice of sharing their loved ones with the community in which they live and for the sacrifices of missed holidays and special family occasions as well as for the support that they gave their loved one as he or she served and protected in the course of conducting their duties.

Speaking to the officers present, Campbell said, “I know well the bond that we share across this county, state, and country, bound by that thin blue line that we each chose to walk.” He shared his amazement as officers poured into Charlotte from across the country to support the fallen officers and grieving colleagues over the past few weeks, even though they probably had never met.

“We each may wear different uniform or hats, but we are unified by the badge we chose to place over our hearts,” Campbell said. “As officers, we are not known as a group that shares our feelings openly nor with one another for the most part. We are we are understood to keep a stiff underlip and continue with a task.”

Finding his own words inadequate to express his depth of feeling in the past weeks, Campbell turned to Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

“We cannot fathom the depth of your brokenness, but we can lean on the promise that God is near to you.”

“We are forever grateful for the service and sacrifice made by your hero. We promised never to let their memory fade, and their sacrifice will never be forgotten,” concluded Campbell.

N.C. State Capitol Police Chief Hawley read the honor roll of the four fallen officers, giving personal details about each, as their department representative place a red rose in the center of the white carnation wreath to represent each officer. A candle was also lit for each fallen officer as their tributes were read.

Retired Deputy William Toney of the Nash County’s Sheriff’s Office then honored all those who have been disabled in the line of duty.

Followed by a call to attention for all officers present, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission officers performed the twenty-one gun salute outside the church, followed by taps performed by Officer Scott Fishkin of the Hight Point Police Department and “Amazing Grace” by the Wilmington Police Pipes and Drums.

The State Law Enforcement Choir, directed by Timothy Britt, also sang several moving songs of comfort during the ceremony, including “No Other Word for Grace but Amazing” and “Never Walk Alone.”

After the recessional of the colors, Stein closed the ceremony by saying, “It is the bond of family, friends, and colleagues that helps sustain us in sorrow. Our hope is this: that this service has been a reminder of that bond, and to the families of Gabriel, Rudy, Russell, and Philip and their friends and co-workers, please accept my deepest sympathy on behalf of a very grateful state.”

“Thank you for being here and allowing us to remember and honor your loved ones. Your presence shows incredible strength and courage. May God bless each and everyone of you and keep you close.”

Law enforcement members then left the church to assemble outside as the color guard, a bagpiper, and a rider accompanying a riderless horse traveled down the road, symbolizing the fallen officers. Department representatives also stood at attention beside the officers’ patrol cars as the procession passed.

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