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2010 Candlelight Vigil

Introductory & Welcoming Remarks

By Craig W. Floyd, May 13, 2010

His name was John Coor-Pender. His title: sheriff. Jurisdiction: Wayne County, North Carolina … southeast of Raleigh. One day, while traveling to serve an arrest warrant, this veteran lawman was ambushed –shot and killed by a man who was already wanted by the police.

John Coor-Pender’s story has a tragically familiar ring to it. Over the last year, we have mourned the loss of far too many law enforcement officers who were intentionally targeted and brutally gunned down by career criminals. But his story has one unique distinction: it took place almost 200 years ago, in 1816.

Of the 324 new names we officially add to the Memorial tonight, his is the earliest death we so honor.  Until Memorial researchers recently verified the details of his death, John Coor-Pender’s sacrifice had been a largely forgotten footnote of history.  But, thankfully, he is forgotten no more.  His name is now proudly inscribed on Panel 18-West, Line 27 of this Memorial, and tonight we finally and fully recognize his service and sacrifice … along with 18,982 other heroes of America who have lost their lives in law enforcement service.

Ladies and gentlemen … on behalf of the Memorial Fund’s board of directors, who have joined me here on the dais, it is my honor and privilege to welcome all of you to this, our 22nd Annual Candlelight Vigil. 

Some 20,000 members of the law enforcement family and citizen supporters have joined us here at the Memorial, and I also want to acknowledge the thousands of people who are watching a live webcast of the Vigil on the Internet.

Far too often, we take our law enforcement professionals for granted.  It is easy to understand why.  Few Americans have any interaction with our law officers, and when they do, it is usually a traffic stop.

They do not realize that one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in America every 53 hours.  They do not realize that 60,000 officers a year are assaulted by criminals, resulting in 16,000 injuries.  They do not realize that, despite those daunting dangers, some 900,000 Federal, state and local officers put their lives at risk each and every day for our safety and welfare.

If our citizenry heard the heroic stories that I am so privileged to hear every day … or if they had the chance to meet the extraordinary men and women of law enforcement that I am so honored to meet every day, they would think differently. 

Last year, fewer law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty than in any year since 1959—a half-century ago.  Improved training, better equipment and tougher criminal justice have made a difference.  But that is of little solace to the survivors of the 116 officers who died last year.

And, there are certainly many troubling signs on the horizon.  A weakened economy has threatened training, equipment and corrections dollars.  Last year, there was a 23 percent increase in the number of officers killed by gunfire.  Multiple-death shooting incidents devastated Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Okaloosa County, Florida; Seminole County, Oklahoma; and Lakewood, Washington.  Already in 2010, 23 officers have been shot and killed—that’s a 53 percent increase over the same time last year.

This is certainly no time for complacency.  Recent news reports have carried frightening stories of militia plots against police, and terrorist threats against our citizens.  The simple truth is that America’s law enforcement officers have never been more challenged nor more vital.  We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude tonight and always.

That is why we built the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.  And, that is why we are building the first-ever National Law Enforcement Museum right across the street from this Memorial.  Tonight, I am very pleased to announce that after 10 years of determined effort, we will break ground on the Museum on October 14th of this year.  When it opens in late 2013, this Museum will tell the inspiring stories behind the names on these marble walls, and help our citizens to better understand and value the law enforcement profession and all who serve.

Tonight, we pay special tribute to the fallen and their surviving family members.  We must, and we will always remember them. 

One of the heroes we will always remember is Larry Lasater, an officer with the Pittsburg, California, Police Department. Five years ago Officer Lasater was shot and killed by an armed robbery suspect. Larry Lasater left behind his wife, Jo Ann, who at the time was seven months pregnant with the couple’s first child. He also left behind a legacy of giving to others, even in death.  Larry had made it clear that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted to donate his organs to others.  A northern California man, who was near death, now lives a normal life thanks to the heart of Larry Lasater that pumps inside him.

Earlier this year, the Memorial Fund launched a photo tribute campaign built on the theme of we “Will Always Remember.” Countless creative and touching photos were submitted. Earlier tonight, we displayed them on the screens behind me.

After all the photos were submitted, we invited our Web site visitors to vote on which photo they liked the most – which one best captured the spirit of remembrance and honor. When all the thousands of votes were tallied … this is the photo that came out on top – young Cody Lasater, born two months after his father was senselessly murdered, and now a very handsome four-year-old.

Ladies and gentlemen we are honored to have Jo Ann and Cody Lasater with us this evening. Thank you for sharing your inspirational story with us, and thank you for reminding all of us why we, too, should “always remember” the law enforcement heroes in our lives—those we have lost . . . and those who continue to serve.

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May these heroes of America rest in peace, and may they always be remembered.

Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our ceremony.  We thank you for coming. May God bless all of you, and may God bless all of America’s peace officers.