A mass of dark blue was visible as far as the eye could see before the memorial began on Dec. 8 for four fallen Lakewood police officers at Tacoma Dome. Although the officers’ uniforms looked similar, the crest attached to their arms told the stories of the communities they served.
Milton. Tacoma. Gig Harbor. Oakland, Calif.
Then the others came. Canadian Mounties wearing jackets in bold red. Washington State Patrol in light blues. Even Ft. Lewis soldiers in sandy browns.
These colors were as diverse as the faces of the public who came to show their support. A local mother and son who wanted to remember their friend; a firefighter who made the trek from California to pay his respects; Royal Canadian Mounted Police who understand the loss of fellow officers; a student whose goal of becoming a police officer had not been deterred; a solider who knows what it means to pay the ultimate price for country and community; and an officer who appreciated the outpouring of community support.
All have shared in how this incident has impacted their lives.
Mother and son remember a friend
“We came to show our support today because we knew Tina when she worked at Mann Middle School,” Antoinette Nelson said. “She was a very nice, sweet person and very funny, too.”
Nelson’s son Riley, a 14-year-old Lakes High School freshman, accompanied his mother at the memorial service. He was a student at the school when Griswold worked at Mann as a community resource officer.
The pair was among dozens of community members who stood in line early at Tacoma Dome, amidst the cold and frost, to pay their respects.
Upon first hearing the news about the officers’ slayings on Nov. 29, Nelson said she immediately thought of Griswold. Her suspicions about the officer’s fate were confirmed by a text message from Riley’s friend the next day.
“When I found out, I just cried.” Nelson said. “I just kept thinking, ‘How awful.’”
A firefighter tosses rivalry aside
“When you have a fallen comrade like that, you just have to show your respect as much as possible,” firefighter David Broomfield said.
He and his wife, LaTisha, made the trek from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., a small town about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles.
Broomfield has only been fighting fires for two years and said he has not had to deal with a tragedy like this before.
When the story about the Lakewood police officers made its way to Californian headlines, Broomfield said he was shocked like everyone else.
“I thought, ‘How could something like this happen?’ It was just devastating,” Broomfield said.
When asked about how the long-standing police and firefighter rivalry comes into play during this event, Broomfield smiled and answered without hesitation.
“When it comes down to something like this, the brother and sisterhood comes first. As a community member, you have to do what you can to show support and help out. For us, coming up here was the best thing we could do.”
Neighbors to the North show respect
The red jackets, beige hats and brown, shiny boots were unmistakable. When members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived at Tacoma Dome, the crowds could not help but turn their heads and watch.
Extremely disciplined, down to their perfect, harmonic strides, the Mounties showed their support with attendance from about 1,000 members.
Corporal Bodnar Chuk arrived with the first wave of Mounties. With 16 years on the force, Chuk said this event has hit his unit especially hard because it brought back memories of their own fallen officers. In 2005, four Mounties were shot and killed in the line of duty near the town of Mayerthorpe in the Canadian province of Alberta.
“This was a big, tragic event for us,” Chuk said. “But with these officers, it’s an almost unbelievable situation because they were in a restaurant. We’re just glad to have the opportunity to be here to show our support.”
Student still strives to wear the shield
Trent Lamar, 26, clutched the handles of his bike as he stood in line with the others. The University of Washington student took the bus from Seattle, and then rode his bike to Tacoma Dome for the chance to pay his respects to the officers.
Lamar comes from a background steeped in law enforcement tradition. His mother works for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). His father is a Florida State Patrol officer. Two uncles work for the Miami/Dade Police Department. His grandfather is retired from the Seattle Police Department.
A native of Seattle, Lamar says he is still dealing with the murder of officer Timothy Brenton, which occurred last Halloween. He noted that he lived just four blocks from where the incident occurred.
“Like everyone, I’m still coping,” Lamar said. “People around the globe know about this and all eyes are watching us now.”
Although this memorial is a harsh reminder of the ultimate risks an officer could take during their career, Lamar said he is still determined to follow in the footsteps of his family by joining the force. He explained that incidents like this do not scare him and that it is just part of the job.
He is currently majoring in business communication and plans to pursue a criminal justice degree next. Then he will apply for the police academy.
“I want to work for the Seattle Police Department because that’s my community,” Lamar said. “I think people can be crazy in this world. That’s why we need more officers to help keep people safe.”
A solider understands the sacrifice
Jaryd Hoar knows sacrifice. The Tacoma Marine of six years has been deployed to bases around the world - from Okinawa to Italy to Kuwait. He stood in line in full dress uniform, with his brother, Luke, a recent Air Force recruit. Hoar said his reason for being at the memorial was obvious.
“I have a tendency to honor people who put their life on the line to ensure peace on the front lines at home and abroad,” Hoar said.
He thinks the support shown from the community toward these four officers has been amazing. Throughout his military career, Hoar said, he has known fellow comrades who have died in action and says the funerals usually only garner crowds of about 10 or so close friends and family.
“People who constantly lay their lives on the line deserve more than just a few people at their funerals,” he said.
An officer honors one of his own
Milton police officer Kevin Williams remembered his childhood and all the special experiences he had with his father. Then, he thinks about the experiences the children of the four officers will miss.
“That’s what tugs at my heart strings the most - the fact that they will never share those experiences,” Williams said. “It’s an extremely tragic event.”
Like his fellow officers from around the country, Williams, a nine-year police veteran, attended the memorial to pay his respects. He knew Sgt. Mark Renninger the best of the four because of Renninger’s association with the Metro SWAT team. The agencies work closely together to keep the more rural communities in the area safe.
Williams said he is appreciative of the community’s support for the officers and for local law enforcement agencies in general. Since the incident on Nov. 29, there has been an outpouring of support from the Milton community toward their department.
“Lots of citizens called just to say ‘thank you.’ People everywhere want to help; it’s been overwhelming,” Williams said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families. We are all here to assist with anything they need.”
These people made up just a fraction of the nearly 19,000 audience members who came to watch the ceremony that captured all the pomp and circumstance of law enforcement traditions that have continued through generations.
When the procession arrived, bagpipes helped carry a tune of hope and happiness. Color Guards bearing flags representing various governments and agencies signified that the ceremony had begun. Honor Guards, one from every law enforcement agency in attendance, saluted the caskets draped in the colors of Old Glory.
Then silence, until all that could be heard was a click, click, click coming from the shoes of family members who were ushered to their seats.
During the service, speakers transitioned from chaplains’ prayers to family members and friends, who shared their final memories.
“I am truly a humbled individual to be in the presence of these officers,” said Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar. “I wish they could see the outpouring of support from the community today.”
Others shared their thoughts for each individual officer.
Mike Villa, assistant police chief of the Tukwila Police Department, said Sergeant Mark Renninger “put his life on the line and risked it to help others.”
“I would have gone through any door with Mark,” Villa said.
Pam Battersby, a friend of officer Tina Griswold, said the officer was tough enough to complete both the women’s and men’s physical training requirements. She added that fellow officer Brian Wertz remembered Griswold as “The toughest little cop he knew.” The tough exterior could not hide the soft interior Griswold had, however.
“Tina wanted to be a good cop. Most of all, she wanted to be a good mother, wife and friend,” Battersby recalls.
Ronda LaFrancois, sister of officer Ronald Owens, shared recollections that made the auditorium chuckle.
“Growing up, we would watch in horror as Ronnie would break-dance in our kitchen while singing Barry Manilow,” LaFrancois said. “I would give anything to go back to those days. He was the baby of our family, but he was also the rock.”
The three children of officer Greg Richards were the last to share their memories.
Austin Richards, 17, said their father was a hero to many, even before becoming a police officer.
“My mom says that to say he’s a good husband is not enough, he’s perfect,” Austin said. “She’s never had to question his loyalty or love. They were best friends who made every decision together, no matter how small.”
Jamie Mae, 15, remembers the lessons her father tried to teach his children.
“My dad taught us to enjoy the simple things in life. He taught us the importance of having good friends and being one, especially to his fellow officers.”
And the youngest Richards sibling, Gavin, 10, left the audience and community with a powerful reminder.
“We love you all because you all love him (Richards).”