Fallen heroes

Police officers watch the flyover that concluded the Fallen Heroes Day ceremony held at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens on Friday afternoon. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun / May 2, 2014)

After learning his son had been shot to death while serving a warrant at a Catonsville home, Officer Jason Schneider's father found comfort in knowing his son had died doing something that mattered.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz recalled speaking with Schneider's father, Charles, at Maryland Shock Trauma Center shortly after Schneider was pronounced dead Aug. 28.

"2013 has been a particularly difficult year for Baltimore County," Kamenetz said, speaking to officials from police and fire departments across the state who came to honor four men at the annual Fallen Heroes Day ceremony held at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium on Friday.

Schneider, a 36-year-old father of two, was the second county public safety official killed in the line of duty last year. Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company firefighter Gene Kirchner, 25, died of injuries suffered as he searched for victims in a house fire last April. Another man died as a result of the blaze.

The day of remembrance also honored first responders killed in Cecil and Prince George's counties in 2013.

Perryville firefighter David R. Barr Jr., died after he was hit by a vehicle while directing traffic. James D. Brooks Sr., with Prince George's County Volunteer Marine Fire Rescue, died after suffering cardiac arrest while on duty.

The ceremony also recognized Maryland State Police Trooper William P. Mills Jr., who was shot in 1979 while responding to a domestic dispute in Dorchester County, and firefighter Jeffrey L. Dieter Sr., who died in an Ocean City blaze in 1983.

Schneider's family, including his wife, Ericka, sat alongside Baltimore County police Chief James W. Johnson and Schneider's colleagues from the county police tactical unit. She was joined at the event by two other women who lost husbands in the line of duty.

One of those women, Gladys Falkenhan, spoke at the ceremony about the loss of her husband, Mark, a firefighter with the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company who died as he was responding to an apartment fire in Hillendale in 2011.

She told the crowd that she used to attend the annual event to support her husband when he was a member of the county Fire Department honor guard. She never thought she would be there for another reason.

The pain continues three years after Mark's death, she said, as does the difficulty of "learning to be Mom and Dad to two young boys."

She began to cry as she described raising her sons alone, and some in the audience — including retired officers and firefighters with graying hair under their caps — wiped tears from their eyes as well.

"In the beginning, my hope was all this was a nightmare," she said.

Falkenhan also received a few laughs when she said she now knows that the lawn mower needs oil and how to fix a leaky toilet.

But Falkenhan offered hope to the survivors. She recalled driving alone in her car months after the funeral. Her favorite song came on, and she started singing along, laughing.

She said she felt guilty because it was the first time she had been happy in months. But soon after, she said, memories began to bring more smiles than tears.

Karmen Walker Brown, wife of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, described the pain she went though after the loss of her first husband, Cpl. Anthony Walker, a Prince George's County police officer who died in a car accident and was honored in 2004.

"It changes your life forever," she said. "Even when it's hard, I think of how Tony made me laugh," she said, adding that she continues to see his personality in her son. Brown said she finds comfort in how Walker's legacy lives on in the department that he served.

"There will be days like today when grieving seems like the only option," she said. "The days get better."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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