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Peace Officers Memorial honors fallen law enforcement officers

SALISBURY — There were few dry eyes Wednesday as the song “I Miss You, Daddy” played in the background and images of law enforcement officers who gave their lives in service to their community flashed across a screen.

The Rowan County peace officers memorial service is held annually during National Police Week to commemorate not only local law enforcement officers but those across the state who’ve died in the line of duty. It’s a way to honor those who still serve and those who died while not on the job.

The ceremony was held at First Presbyterian Church.

Photos on display showed Mooresville Police Officer Jordan Sheldon, who was shot to death two weeks ago during a traffic stop, as well as Salisbury Master Police Officer Wiley Lamm, who died in 2012 after a battle with cancer, and Salisbury Police Sgt. Mark Hunter, who died in 2013 of a heart attack.

Lt. Mike Brady, who is retired from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, read a list of officers who’ve died in the line of duty throughout the state from May 2018 to recently. Pfc. Robert Clement II read the names of the Rowan officers who died before 2018, which included his father, Officer Robert Clement.

Brady urged those in attendance to remember the families of those who died. He recalled going home one night and one of his children was still awake, waiting for him to come home so the child would know his father was safe.

Sheriff Kevin Auten read the names of the officers who died recently while not in the line of duty, all of whom he had worked with at some point in his career, he said.

He encouraged people to remember to value their faith, family and friendships.

Guest speaker John Campbell, a retired captain with the N.C. Wildlife Service, is now director of Blue Line Brotherhood, a nonprofit group that supports law enforcement.

“Our prayers are with the families of officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Campbell said.

He told those gathered to encourage one another and be a positive role model as well as to put their trust in the Lord. Campbell said officers need to be prepared spiritually and mentally for what he called a battlefield.

The ceremony was organized in 1997 by Karen Barbee-Zeigler, then a Salisbury Police Department Officer, after the death of Oakboro Patrolman Damon Franklin Smith. He’d grown up in Rowan County, and the officers at the time wanted to honor him.

Now retired, Barbee-Zeigler has fond memories of those early days. She said she’s glad to see the ceremony continue.

“We want people to remember what it means that they sacrificed,” she said.

Jody Pickett and two others drove three military-themed trucks from Daimler’s Freightliner manufacturing plant in Cleveland to the ceremony. The trucks are part of the Ride of Pride that features iconic images that represent all conflicts since World War I, a medal truck for veterans who received Purple Hearts and Congressional Medals of Honor, and the Ride of Honor truck that shows over 70 years of wars from World War II onward.

Pickett said they were invited by organizer and police Officer Rebecca Sexton. He said they support all veteran recognitions and joining the community to honor law enforcement.

He said law enforcement officers are much like veterans because the serve their community, but in a different capacity.

Lucas Beam, whose father is Salisbury police Lt. Greg Beam, sang with Debra Yokley and Robin Rogers, accompanied by police Lt. Lee Walker.

Lucas Beam said, as the son of a police officer, it was a pleasure to be able to perform for this type of ceremony. Lucas Beam said he hopes services like Wednesdays let people see that law officers are “normal people trying to serve their community and do their job.”

Mark Shue spent 28 years with the Salisbury Police Department and four years with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. Now, he works part time with the Rockwell and Oakboro police departments. He had the opportunity to place the memorial wreath alongside his son, Hunter, who is an officer with the Salisbury Police Department.

“It’s a way for our officers and community to come together and honor and show respect for law enforcement who have fallen,” Shue said.

“Being in law enforcement the years I’ve been in it and dealing with the understanding that you have for officer-involved deaths takes a toll,” said Rowan County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief David Ramsey.

Ramsey said having memorial services like the one Wednesday offers some sense of peace.

“Our job is to serve the community,” Ramsey said, adding that law enforcement is a thankless job.

Representatives of the N.C. Highway Patrol were also in attendance and said that this part of the year is especially hard for them because they lost some of their own last year.

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