Addressing an estimated 30,000 people gathered for the 29th annual Candlelight Vigil Saturday night in Washington, DC, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged his and his office's support for the nation's law enforcement officers.
"To all those serving, I have a simple message for each of you," Sessions said. "We have your back, and you have our thanks."
Sessions' remarks preceded the reading of the names of 394 fallen officers who were added to the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial this year. That total includes 143 who died in 2016 and 251 killed in prior years who had "slipped through the cracks of history," according to Craig W. Floyd, president and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).
The vigil began with the presentation of the colors and the singing of the national anthem by the Dallas Police Choir. Floyd said the choir was performing in honor of the five Dallas officers who were killed last summer in a sniper attack at the end of an anti-police protest.
In addition to Sessions, dignitaries speaking at the vigil included Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, National President of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) Brenda Donner, and John Ashcroft, who served as attorney general in the George W. Bush administration.
Ashcroft, who is chairman of the board of directors for NLEOMF, thanked everyone in attendance. But he had a special message for the survivors of fallen officers. "Your loved ones will always be remembered and honored," he said.
Speaking forcefully about the targeting of officers by individuals who murder them in "cold blood" from ambush, Ashcroft said, "We have to end this hatred against law enforcement."
Speaking next, DHS Secretary Kelly said seven of the fallen officers being honored were from the agencies that make up his department. Kelly said those officers and all the other officers being honored this year "are not heroes because of the way they died but the way they lived lives of courage."
Sessions' remarks echoed Kelly's sentiment. "We celebrate what they did and what they stood for," he said of the fallen.
"It is one of the highest callings of my office to call attention to your successes," he said. "As long as I am attorney general, the Department of Justice will have the backs of all honest and honorable law enforcement officers."
C.O.P.S. president Brenda Donner told the story of losing her police officer father to a line-of-duty death 50 years ago when she was eight years old. Donner urged all in attendance to provide comfort to the young children of fallen officers. She said her experience after the death of her father was that people inadvertently made her feel like her father left because of something she did. "Help children understand they did nothing wrong to cause the death of their parent," she said. "It's OK to tell them about their parent and share tears and laughter," she added.
Each of the 394 names of the fallen were read at the end of the vigil. The reading was organized alphabetically by state with Sessions, former U.S. senator from Alabama, reading the first names.--David Griffith