SALT LAKE CITY — Law enforcers from across the state gathered on the grounds of the state Capitol Thursday to remember their fallen brothers and sisters.
But while the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Service was a somber occasion, Kaysville Police Chief Sol Oberg told the crowd there was a bright spot this year.
“Although this is a solemn occasion, today we can rejoice in the fact that this year in Utah, we’re not adding any new fallen officer names to our officer wall,” he said to applause from the crowd.
Over the past couple of years, the names of Utah Highway Patrol trooper Eric Ellsworth, West Valley police officer Cody Brotherson, Unified police officer Doug Barney and Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Cory Wride have been added to the wall.
While no plaques were added to the wall, several speakers noted that the reason the memorial service is held each year is so those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, and their families that have both lost so much and given so much, are not forgotten.
“Our fallen will never be forgotten,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.
Earlier this week, Rivera and one of her chief deputies presented the Michael Welcker scholarship to several high school students. Welcker was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1994. But while telling them about the namesake of the award, the chief deputy became emotional, Rivera said, as her own voice cracked while speaking on Thursday.
“Mike has been gone 20 years. And the impact on losing him is still evident,” she said.
Robert Kirby, a former police officer and longtime member of the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial Committee who has spent decades researching law enforcement history to make sure no fallen officer is forgotten, reiterated that the memorial service is a gathering for those who have lost so much.
“I don’t believe we should just mourn their deaths, but also give thanks that such people lived. They gave us what we have today,” he said.
Kirby read a journal entry he wrote in 1995. At the time, he said he was still enraged about just finding out about officers in his area that were killed in the line of duty that he had never heard about. When he came across one of those headstones, it started his quest to find every officer, “and honor them in a manner they deserve.”
“We are very much aware that this is an open-ended casualty list, and the next to fall could very well be standing in this audience today. Please be careful. I don’t want to have to write about you,” he told the crowd.
Kirby also asked for public support of the memorial. As he did so, he referenced “the buildings on the other side of this memorial,” including the state Capitol, and how those structures would not be possible with you,” he said pointing to the crowd, and “them,” as his hand touched the memorial wall.
Rivera added that while no officer was killed this past year, there were close calls. Oberg made reference to his officers who were burned recently while trying to help a suicidal man who set himself on fire in a gas station.
Officers are reminded of the dangers they face daily, Rivera said.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented time in which our brave men and women in uniform are not respected as they have been in years past,” she said.
The sheriff then encouraged members of the public to get involved themselves.
“I say join us. Put the uniform on. Serve your community, your family, and your God with honor and valor,” she said.
On Wednesday, West Valley police announced that Braydon Brotherson, younger brother of Cody Brotherson, had just graduated from the police academy and will be working as a Utah Department of Corrections officer.
“We need to stand together across the boundaries of every agency. Support each other, call each other in a call of need. And even more important, stand ready when that next officer is lost in this never-ending battle. Let us hold the line together, shoulder to shoulder, to be there for our brothers and sisters,” Rivera said.
“Although our badges and patches are different between each agency, they are a family crest. And in this family, no one walks alone.”