The words “gone but not forgotten” were intoned over and over Thursday at the Lorain County Police Memorial Service.
Law enforcement officers, gathered at Lorain High School, mourned comrades who died in the line of duty. Twenty-six were remembered going back to 1883.
For Col. Paul Pride, the deepest cut was the death of state trooper Kenneth Velez on Sept. 15, 2016.
Velez, of Lorain, was the proud father of Amherst Steele High School students. He and Pride graduated together from the Ohio State Highway Patrol academy.
Now superintendent of the Patrol, Pride spoke at Velez’s funeral last year and said he was touched by the outpouring of support from people who lined streets, waving flags, as well as businesses that posted window signs along the funeral procession route.
“He was not only loved by his family, but he was loved by his community, by each of you,” he told officers.
Each year, Amherst constable Rupert Becker is among those honored at the memorial. He was gunned down April 10, 1916, by Martin Bischoff, a local quarry worker who opened fire on Church Street after an argument with a bar patron. Becker was shot four times.
Both National Police Week and National Peace Officers Memorial Day are observed in May. Many memorials will be held from shore to shore this month to remember those who have served and died in the line of duty, Pride said.
In all, 144 American law enforcement officers were killed last year. In addition to Velez, five others hailed from Ohio:
• Officer Aaron Christian of the Chesapeake police department died when his car went off a road and into a creek.
• Officer Sean Johnson of the Hilliard police department died in a motorcycle crash during training.
• Officer Steven Smith of the Columbus police department died of a gunshot wound sustained when a felony arson suspect opened fire on a SWAT team.
• Officer Thomas Cottrell Jr. of the Danville police department was shot and killed in an ambush.
• K9 Jethro of the Canton police department was shot to death by a grocery store burglar.
Already in 2017, Ohio has mourned Cleveland police officer David Fahey, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver while investigating a fatal traffic crash on Interstate 90, less than a mile from where Velez died.
“We’re left wishing we could turn the clock back so they could be with us. But we know that’s not possible,” Pride said.
He described the fallen as people of unwavering courage and unshakable character.
We can never repay the debts owed to the fallen or their families. However, we can continue to honor their memories, he said.
Pride said the service is a poignant reminder of the risks taken by those who wear the badge.
“Think how dark this world would be without noble men and women such as these,” he said.
Police know they will be exposed to great danger but are not deterred, said Avon Lake police chief Duane Streator.
“Be assured, we in law enforcement will be here for you whenever you need us,” he said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.