LAKEWOOD — The Tacoma Scots Pipe Band played a bright but mournful rendition of “Amazing Grace,” effectively echoing the tone for the Pierce County Law Enforcement Memorial ceremony at Clover Park Technical College’s McGavick Student and Conference Center May 3.
At the Lakewood event, a wreath was placed and honor given to a table set for one — symbolizing the one who was “gone but not forgotten.” A bell rang out as names were read for each of the 60 Pierce County fallen law enforcement officers. Those who died in duty as special agents, police officers, state troopers, service members, park rangers and department of corrections workers, as far back as the early 1900s to 2016, were honored at the event.
Most recent law enforcement officer to die while on duty was Tacoma Police Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, who was killed from gunfire at a domestic disturbance Nov. 30, 2016.
As faces and names with dates of their first and last breaths filled a screen at the front of the auditorium, the Bethlehem Baptist Church Choir sang the Carrie Underwood song lyrics, “’Til I see you again — said goodbye, turned around, and you were gone — gone — gone.”
Perhaps one of the most touching portions of the event came when Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Khalid Shabazz, 7th Infantry Division chaplain, read “The Final Inspection,” a poem about a fallen police officer’s meeting with God at the end of the officer’s time on Earth.
“The policeman stood and faced his God, which must always come to pass,” Shabazz began. “He hoped his shoes were shining, just as brightly as his brass.”
The poem went on to include the policeman’s answer to God’s question of how the man should be dealt with and if he’d always turned the other cheek and been true to the church.
“No, Lord. I guess I ain’t,” Shabazz said, as he began a narrative of the policeman’s work — including fears, tears, honor and humility. “Because those who carry badges, can’t always be a saint.”
The verse concluded with God’s edict: “Step forward now, policeman. You’ve borne your burdens well. Come walk a beat on Heaven’s streets. You’ve done your time in hell.”
Cyrus Habib, Washington’s lieutenant governor, also spoke at the ceremony, giving honor to those killed as well as the families of those who laid down their lives for others.
He said a police officer’s widow once told him that with the everyday worry of being the wife of a law enforcement officer, her husband had died a thousand deaths prior to his actual death. Habib likened the memorial to one attended by former President Ronald Reagan, at which Reagan called the reading of names a “roll call of honor.”
“May we remember the brave as a roll call of honor and inscribe their names on our hearts,” Habib said, adding the challenge to remember and support the widows and orphaned children. “That’s truly how we honor those brave. Thank God for blessings on those suffering families here tonight.”
Tina Matthews, of Tacoma, was one of the dozens of family members escorted into the ceremony. Her then- 39-year-old brother, William Francis “Bill” Lowry, a Tacoma police officer, was one of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Like Gutierrez’ more recent fatality, Lowry died by gunfire when he answered a call for help during a domestic disturbance standoff Aug. 28, 1997.
Matthews said she tries to attend the memorial each year because it helps, both in commiserating with others who’ve lost a family member and in remembering her loved one.
“It does help,” she said. “I missed a couple years — it’s hard to take time from a busy schedule. But, it helps to remember.”