Law enforcement officers are family, and those committed to protecting and serving need and deserve the public’s service and protection.

Law enforcement officers are family, and those committed to protecting and serving need and deserve the public’s service and protection.

That was a central theme during Thursday’s annual Service of Remembrance to honor officers who gave their lives in the line of service, hosted by the Chaplains’ Office for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) and the Neosho Police Department.

Remembering Local Heroes:

Newton County Presiding commissioner Marilyn Ruestman, the first of two featured speakers, began her presentation by pulling two empty chairs to the podium and draping a Missouri state flag over each.

“Officer down,” Ruestman began. “These are the words that no police department ever wants to hear or ever wants to say. And tonight we are here to pay homage and honor to those officers who have fallen in the line of duty.”

Ruestman focused on Newton County, and noted the vacant chairs represented the two men who have fallen while protecting and serving citizens of this county.

Seneca merchant police officer James Wallace, 58, a two-year veteran, was dispatched to a robbery at a liquor store/gas station at the junction of Highways 60 and 43.

“One of the two suspects got the drop on officer Wallace and demanded that he throw down his weapon,” Ruestman recalled. “As he was responding to that demand he was shot. He died September 12, 1946.”

The most well known on-duty death of a Newton County officer came when a team of law enforcement officers including Joplin police, state troopers and two Newton County Constables were dispatched to check out a gang of suspected bootleggers on the edge of Joplin at 34th Street and Oakridge.

“Officer John Wesley Harryman, Sr., a four-month veteran age 42 was blasted away immediately as he made an exit from his vehicle by Clyde Barrow,” Ruestman remembered. “And later died en route to the hospital. That day was April 13, 1933, and the bootleggers turned out to be the Bonnie & Clyde gang.”

Ruestman presented the flags as a memorial “to those two officers who paid the ultimate price protecting our people in Newton County” to both the NCSO and Neosho police.

A grandson of Harryman who lives in Newton County had planned to be at Thursday’s ceremony, but Ruestman said a medical emergency precluded his attendance.

Endangered and Unappreciated:

Ruestman presented some start statistics on the dangers of being a police officer, including that one officer is killed in the line of duty in this country every 61 hours on

average. Most are killed between the age of 25-40, and on average she said they leave behind 2.2 children with one remaining parent.

Monuments have been dedicated across the nation during the May 15-20 observance of National Police Officers Memorial Week, and Ruestman displayed disgust at what happened at a monument at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

“It was vandalized and desecrated by a radical group known as Black Lives Matter,” she lamented. “I was offended. Law enforcement officers don’t commit only themselves, they commit their entire family. When they take the oath to protect all members of society – regardless of what those members think – together these officers and their families share the risks, they share the fear, and sometimes they share the agony of loss.”

Law enforcement is not glamorous, is not well paying, and is many times under appreciated, so Ruestman spouted advice to all of society.

“I’m ticked off. I’m a citizen. I think it’s time that we citizens stand up to this growing wave of disrespect for law enforcement that is going across our land,” she pleaded. “I’m sick of it. We need to stand up. We can do it right there, and we need to stop these hate mongers that are all over the place that pay people to come to incidents and create dangerous situations that are life-threatening to our officers.”

Every citizen needs to be reminded what it might be like without law enforcement around to protect us and enforce our laws, and Ruestman demanded that we all need to stand up “and loudly say ‘Thank you’ to our police officers every chance we get.”

Officers Are There For You:

Stacey Stevens has had much contact with law enforcement since her son Matthew was killed on Sept. 12, 2015 at the age of 19 by a hit and run driver on Missouri Highway 59 at Malcolm Mosby Drive.

“That day is the day the world stopped for me,” Stevens shared. A licensed therapist for 20 years, she said she understands the daily grind that law enforcement officers deal with and she tries to help others cope with “the cards that life dealt them.”

Stevens said she can only imagine what it is like for police to constantly witness first hand the worst of situations.

“So it is here that I must express my gratitude,” she voiced. “What must it have been like to find this child, my son, in the middle of the highway? To pick up his belongings and to know that someone has lost their loved one.”

Police officers across the nation have been treated roughly in the past year, as Stevens noted reports of officers spat on, insulted, and killed.

“It is a wonder that each of you gets up every day, puts on the uniform and spend countless hours in the mission to protect those very people who are crucifying you,” she marveled.  “But you do. I’m not sure how, because to some, once you’re wearing that uniform you are seen as an enemy instead of a husband, a father, wife, mother, sibling, friend. On a daily basis you get to witness the best and the worst of humanity, and with time I know it can take its toll.”

Pondering why officers continue in their profession with high burnout, low pay, and little to no gratitude, Stevens tearfully answered that it is mothers like her that help keep them going.

“I can’t find the words to express my gratitude for what you did for my son,” she cried. “For me and my entire family. You did more than just your job, several of you have gone above and beyond to answer questions and provide support and show true concern and compassion for what our family has experienced in losing Matthew.”

Hundreds of thousands of people across the nation are humbled and grateful for the job police do, Stevens continued.

“Each of you is a beacon of light when someone’s in the darkness. You are someone’s hero. You are someone’s guide out of the storm. You matter, you make a difference. You made a world of difference in mine, and I thank you,” she concluded.

Officer Appreciate the Appreciation:

NCSO Chief Deputy Chris Jennings noted that attendance of the local service, held in the sheriff’s office conference room, has grown each year, and suggested that a larger venue may be needed in the future as Thursday’s crowd was standing room only.

“I just want to thank everybody for their attendance and it really means a lot to the officers to have you show up like this,” Jennings remarked.

Neosho Police Chief David Kennedy reiterated the point that the overflow crowd means a lot to the officers and their families, and he showed appreciation for the chaplains and what they do for officers and their families.

Chaplain and KNEO Radio general manager, Mark Taylor, encouraged the officers and their families to utilize the services offered by the chaplains in whatever situation they may face.

Taylor quoted a couple of scriptures pertaining to justice and protection including Proverbs 2:7-9 which contains “He is a shield to those who walk upright. He guards the paths of justice and preserves the way of His saints.”

“God guards justice,” Taylor maintained. “He is pleased with justice. He wants justice.”

In 2015, the nation lost 128 officers in the line of duty, and Chaplain Dr. William Doubek announced that 35 officers have been lost so far this year. Twenty-seven police dogs were killed last year, and Doubek said 12 canine officers have so far died in the line of duty in 2016.

The service concluded with the recognition of the five officers from the region who have died in service to their communities since last’s years’ annual recognition, and a former officer.

Remembered and memorialized were auxiliary deputy Sonny Allan Smith, Sgt. Peggy Marie Vassallo, trooper James Matthew Bava, deputy Steve Brett Hawkins, detective Brad D. Lancaster, and former McDonald County deputy and Goodman Police Chief Lee Brodie, who died last Sunday at the age of 86 after a long illness.

The annual service is an opportunity to give thanks and to remember those who have given their lives in service to society, according to Doubek.

“We remember the names, we remember the people,” he said. “We pay our respects we honor our loss, and we just remember the names.”