A strong wind held the American and Texas flags outstretched for much of the emotional Bell County Police Memorial Ceremony at the Harker Heights Police Department headquarters on Tuesday morning.
Around 100 people, including officers from departments around Central Texas as well as state and federal agencies, gathered to remember law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
Every officer in attendance wore mourning bands across their badges as a way to memorialize the 16 officers who lost their lives last year in Texas. The Bell County Police Memorial Ceremony coincided with National Police Week.
Harker Heights Police Chief Phil Gadd said he knows about such losses. “Less than two years after graduating from the academy, (Harker Heights Police Officer) Carl Levin was killed while investigating an arson,” Gadd said. He lost another colleague in Michigan.
“These losses have a lot of bearing on who I am as a police officer,” Gadd said.
Gadd wanted people to remember the families of fallen officers. “We have many survivors of these tragic losses right here today,” he said.
One of those survivors is Gadd’s former FBI colleague, who spoke in public for the first time about losing his brother-in-law, Tim, a Houston police officer.
Retired FBI Agent Dan Snow began his speech about the beginnings of his own career in the department. “That ride-along with an HPD officer changed my life and I couldn’t fill out my application fast enough,” Snow said, followed by a few chuckles in the crowd.
Tim followed Snow into the department not long after.
“He said, ‘I want what you have,’” Snow recalled. He pinned on Tim’s badge on 1997 and his brother-in-law embarked on a career that started out on patrol followed by a gang task force and membership on the dive team and the bomb squad.
On Dec. 7, 2000, Tim accepted an overtime shift in an area of town needing extra police presence. “He was just trying to pay for his kid’s school,” Snow said.
Tim took a call in an apartment complex infamous to police, with 299 felony investigations in two years. He made a stop on a car acting suspiciously, the driver ran and Tim gave chase into the complex.
“He overran the subject, who shot him in the leg, then the throat, and then point blank in the head. Killed him,” Snow said, clearly emotional.
Snow said the best way officers can honor officers like Tim who gave the ultimate sacrifice is just to do the job. “Do it right so justice prevails,” he said.
The man who killed Tim later confessed to the crime, Snow said.
The reading of the names of the fallen was a quiet, somber occasion.
Honor guard members from departments around Central Texas placed a rose in a spot near the home agency of each officer killed onto a large wreath in the shape of the state of Texas, which was covered with white and blue flowers. When all 16 names were read, nearly every corner of the state was covered.
Honor guard members honored each fallen officer with a slow, solemn salute.
The sharp, echoing cracks of the 21-gun salute followed. Iole Pannell, a Bell County Sheriff’s Department deputy, played taps.
Earlier in the ceremony, the Harker Heights honor guard posted the colors followed by Minister Natasha Hartley’s flawless and powerful rendition of the national anthem.
The performance meant a lot for Hartley, a retired master sergeant in the U.S. Army. “I see police officers as comrades-in-arms, so it’s an honor to use the national anthem to minister to them in moments like these,” Hartley said. “The whole ceremony was touching, beautiful.”
Mayor Spencer H. Smith officially proclaimed May 15 as a memorial day for fallen officers.
“Often people don’t realize that while we’re sleeping first responders are out here taking care of us,” Smith said.
Gadd said he wants Harker Heights residents to know his officers are “proud professionals.”
“They are here for our citizens 24/7 to respond to calls and needs of all kinds,” Gadd said.
The Killeen Police Department will be hosting the ceremony next year.
Officers from Killeen, Copperas Cove, Temple, Belton, Morgan’s Point, Fort Hood Military Police, Bell County Sheriff’s Department, Bell County Constables, State Troopers, the FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals, and the postal authority were in attendance, as well as city officials.
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