A steady afternoon rain eased as a bagpipe version of "America the Beautiful" resonated outside Howard County police headquarters. Roger and Jean Cassell laid red carnations at the foot of the stone marker honoring their son, Roger Cassell Jr., a Howard County police recruit who collapsed and died after a training activity in 1994.
"I think your biggest fear is that people will forget," Jean Cassell said. "We appreciate the fact that other people do remember," said her husband, Roger.
About 100 people gathered in Ellicott City on Friday for the Police Department's seventh annual Fallen Heroes Ceremony. The event honored the memories of six law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in Howard County.
The event was as an early local kickoff for National Police Week. Police departments around the country will be holding events this week to remember officers who have died on the job. A candlelight vigil was to be held last night at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, and the National Peace Officers Memorial Day Service is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.
The Howard County ceremony began indoors in the George Howard Building at the government complex because of the rain, then moved outside to the police memorial garden next door at police headquarters.
Among those attending were family members of several of the fallen officers, Police Department employees and representatives from the county.
"I think the spirit that brought us here today is here, whether we're inside or outside," said Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon.
Guest speaker Shirley Gibson, former national president of the organization Concerns of Police Survivors, told the story behind her son's death. A police officer in Washington, he was shot to death in 1997 while sitting in his police cruiser at a traffic light by a gang member who was upset with another police officer. Brian Gibson was 27 years old.
"There's no such thing as closure when you lose someone you love," Gibson said. "We'll never shut the door or put behind our loved ones.
"Our sons shared what I call a calling, a calling to law enforcement. ... I want you to be able to say, 'Every tear that I shed, he's worth it.'"
County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty read a resolution from the County Council recognizing National Police Week and Howard County's fallen officers.
"Thanks for the commitment and sacrifice that your family made to keep the rest of us safe," County Executive Ken Ulman told the families of the fallen officers. "Although on some level there's sadness, I think on a much greater level there's hope and opportunity to celebrate."
A bust of Cpl. Scott Wheeler, a Howard County police officer who was killed last year when he was hit by a speeding car, was also unveiled. Members of the Wheeler family, including his widow, brother and parents, received replicas of a bronze statue of a police officer holding the hands of two children that stands in the police garden.
After the indoor ceremony, participants filed outside to the memorial garden, where a wreath was placed to honor the officers' memories. The same wreath rode with department officials to the six locations around the county where the officers died as part of a memorial preceded the ceremony.
"I'm just grateful that they continue to have this," said Ginni Wolf, widow of Ted Wolf, a Maryland State Police corporal who was shot on Interstate 95 near the Route 175 interchange in 1990. "It really means a lot to the families."