More than 30,000 gathered Friday evening on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to honor and remember 619 fallen officers whose names were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2022.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) held its 34th Annual Candlelight Vigil as part of National Police Week. The vigil opened by sharing the stories of two fallen officers, Officer Kaia Grant, of the Springfield (OH) Police Department; and Officer Keona Holley, of the Baltimore Police Department. Both were among the officers added to the memorial in 2022 and join more than 23,000 other law enforcement heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice and have their names engraved on the walls of the memorial.
On March 21, 2020, Grant was called to assist other police departments during a pursuit on Interstate 275. As she was putting down spike strips, the suspect swerved his truck toward Grant intentionally hitting her. Grant was rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, but her injuries were too severe for her to survive. She was 33 years old.
On Dec. 16, 2021, Holley volunteered to pick up a midnight overtime shift. Around 1:30 in the morning, Holley was on duty in her patrol vehicle when a gunman ran up behind her vehicle and ambushed her, shooting her twice in the back of the head. She was rushed to the University of Maryland shock trauma unit in critical condition. For the next week, Holley was on life support, but her condition was deteriorating. Her family had to make the decision to take her off life support. She died hours later. It was two days before Christmas. She was 39 years old.
“These women are true heroes. We promise that their sacrifice will never be forgotten,” said Marcia Ferranto, NLEOMF chief executive officer, as she spoke to their families seated in the front row. “Kaia and Keona have special stories as do the 619 law enforcement officers we are honoring here tonight. To pay them proper tribute, each of their names will be read as part of this ceremony and will forever be etched on the walls of the national memorial and in the hearts of a grateful nation.”
Lori Sharpe Day, NLEOMF chair, referenced a thought shared by former Attorney General John Ashcraft when he was the chair of NLEOMF. About five years ago during the candlelight vigil Ashcroft said, “In order for us to honor the fallen, let's stop the falling.” That is a simple way of saying that we have to do everything we can to protect our law enforcement officers and do everything we can to make policing safer, Day added.
“In order to truly honor the fallen, we've got to do two things. One, we have to honor the living. We cannot wait until a tragic fate cuts a life too short, when they were out trying to protect their community, to say thank you and to show our gratitude,” Day said. “The second thing that we have to do to continue to honor law enforcement is to support and honor their survivors. To those survivors tonight, we want to thank you from the bottom of our heart and tell you how sorry we are for your loss.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said it has been a challenging time for law enforcement in this country and the frontline officers bear the weight of those challenges. He encouraged them to remember the fallen each day as they continue to serve.
“The road of service is paved by those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not only those whom we have lost, but their families, loved ones, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, too. Each time an officer dons their uniform, pins on their badge, holsters their firearm, and walks out the front door of their home their loved ones walk out that front door too. The risks that one bears is borne by others. The loss of life is the loss felt deeply and profoundly by others,” Mayorkas said. “The greatest tribute we pay to them, is how we carry forward in executing our mission. All of you in law enforcement do that every single day.”
Before the reading of the 619 names, Patricia Carruth, national president of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), addressed the audience. She related to the families of the fallen officers how she too had shared in the experience when her son, an officer, was killed.
“Tonight, as I look out at all of you, I remember back to when I was sitting in one of those chairs at this event for the very first time. I remember how lost in my grief I was. I remember lighting a candle. It seemed like my very own personal darkness,” Carruth said. “I remember looking into that candle, feeling some warmth, and also seeing a beautiful light. That reminded me of my son's life. I remembered not wanting to blow that candle out for fear of losing the light. But trust me, their light will never leave us because it's etched and instilled within us.”