Friday took a somber tone as dozens gathered at a memorial service, held in honor of Alaska Police Memorial Day, at the state's new crime lab in Anchorage.
Sixty-four names of fallen officers were read by Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew and Alaska State Troopers Director Col. Keith Mallard -- each name accompanied by the ringing of a bell in its honor.
During the ceremony, two names were added to the Alaska Police Memorial outside the crime lab: Manokotak Village Public Safety Officer Thomas Madole and Alaska State Trooper Tage Toll.
Troopers say Madole was fatally shot by Leroy B. Dick Jr. during a March 19 confrontation, when Madole responded to reports that Dick was suicidal. Toll was one of three people who died, along with pilot Mel Nading and snowmachiner Carl Ober, in the March 30 crash of AST’s Helo-1 near Talkeetna."These officers aren't heroes so much in how they died, but in how they lived," said Walt Monegan, the day's keynote speaker and a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
On Wednesday, DPS spokesperson Megan Peters said Friday’s events are important to commemorate the sacrifices officers have made in Alaska over the years, which sometimes don’t receive as much publicity as cases in the Lower 48.
“This may not be New York or L.A. or Chicago, but tragedy strikes in small towns as easily as it can in cities,” Peters said.
Three troopers have also been wounded in the line of duty during the last year, receiving state Purple Heart awards issued by DPS in the tradition of the military medal.
Troopers Gordon Young and Christopher Bitz received shrapnel and gunshot wounds respectively in Kotzebue on June 17, when Arvid Nelson Jr. opened fire on them from a vehicle they were approaching. Nelson subsequently committed suicide during a standoff with troopers.
In a similar Mat-Su Valley incident, Peters says Trooper Andrew Ballesteros received two grazing head wounds during an Oct. 13 traffic stop on Trunk Road near the Parks Highway. Driver Nicholas Lee Frazier, who was later found dead from apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds, opened fire on Ballesteros at short range, temporarily blinding him with the gunpowder flash of the shots.
“One bullet hit (Ballesteros’) glasses and skinned the side of his head,” Peters said.
DPS has also awarded two more Purple Hearts -- to Madole and Toll -- on a posthumous basis.
Alaska law enforcement agencies began their observations of the day Friday morning, with an awards ceremony held for Anchorage police officers at the Loussac Library’s Wilda Marston Theatre.
A total of twelve awards were given at the APD event, including eight Medals of Valor to officers for “an exceptionally courageous act where the officer had prior knowledge of the physical risks and dangers involved.”
In addition, four current and former APD officers received Shield Awards, given to any employee who “sustains serious physical injury in the line of duty as the result of criminal conduct of another and not the result of or concurrent with conduct that is less than acceptable by Department standards.”
APD leaders say that while the medal and shield programs began in 2012, Friday’s event is meant to establish the awards as an annual event on Alaska Police Memorial Day.
Speaking at the awards ceremony Friday, APD Chief Mark Mew says he recognizes the risks officers face on a daily basis as they serve the public.
“When bad things happen, most people run away,” Mew said. “When bad things happen, soldiers, cops, firefighters -- they run towards the problem instead of away from the problem. That puts us in harm's way a lot; that's why our jobs are a bit different.”
Medal of Valor recipient Sgt. Jeffrey Morton spoke with Channel 2 about the incident for which he was honored -- the Sept. 13 arrest of 37-year-old Jason Barnum after a standoff at the Merrill Field Inn. Police investigating a string of burglaries were speaking with Stephanie Callis and Sam Williams Jr. in a room at the inn at about 11:30 a.m. that morning when Barnum allegedly opened fire on officers, grazing Medal of Valor and Shield Award recipient Ofc. Daniel Thyen’s back.
“And when I come out of the bathroom, they ran and they literally run inside the room, so obviously something's wrong,” Morton said. “And as soon as (Callis) exited the room, a suspect at that point which we later knew (as Barnum) steps apart, immediately exits, and came shooting at the two officers that were in the room.”
Thyen and Ofc. Joel Breiner returned fire, striking Barnum in the arm and forcing him back as police exited the room and got the other people out. Barnum, who eventually surrendered to police nearly two hours later, was charged with one count of first-degree attempted murder and two counts of assault in the incident.
APD spokesperson Anita Shell says this year’s award recipients included:
Medal of Valor:
Sgt. Jeffrey Morton
Ofc. Kevin Armstrong
Ofc. Joel Breiner
Ofc. Kemberly Semeniuk
Ofc. Mischa Sorbo
Ofc. Daniel Thyen
Ofc. Brian Vanderbrunt
Ofc. Doyle Warren
Detective Cynthia Bradley (ret.)
Ofc. Keo Fujimoto
Ofc. Christopher Simmons
Ofc. Daniel Thyen
Other events open to the public were also held Friday in Fairbanks and Juneau, to commemorate the date.
The Fairbanks Police Department at 911 Cushman St. hosted its city’s event at 11 a.m., with a picnic following the ceremony.
In Juneau, a wreath was laid at the Evergreen Cemetery at 601 Seater St. at noon Friday. The Juneau Police Department hosted a 6 p.m. ceremony outside its headquarters at 6255 Alaway Ave., followed by a partial screening of a documentary on fallen officers and their families.
Friday's remembrances in Alaska are deliberately offset from Wednesday's National Police Memorial Day, so that families of fallen officers may attend events on both days.
Channel 2's Samantha Angaiak contributed information to this story.
Contact Chris Klint