AUGUSTA, Maine — Dozens of police officers and civilians gathered Thursday for a solemn ceremony in remembrance of the 83 law enforcement officers from Maine who have died while on duty.
Expressions on the faces of the law enforcement officers were grim and tears streaked the faces of some audience members touched by the loss of men and women who died while protecting public safety. But everyone had one reason to be grateful: No new names were etched into the granite on the Maine Law Enforcement Officers Memorial outside the State House this year.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, the keynote speaker, recounted the tragic stories of several officers, many of whom were responding to what might have seemed like routine calls that turned deadly.
“Today we take a solemn moment to think about our brave fellow citizens who departed this life in the course of their duty to protect and serve, those lost in gun battles, car chases, drownings and plane crashes,” said Mills. “Through the mist of memory, we think about the 83 names engraved on these large stones. Eighty-three untimely deaths from 1808 to 2011. Eighty-three citizens who worked for us, who patrolled our roads, our woods, our lakes and bays, our skies. Each had a life. Each had a family. Each had a duty. Each lost a life to that duty.”
Among those highlighted by Mills was Elliott S. Johnson, who was working for the Thomaston Police Department in September 1973 when he was asked to set up a roadblock to stop a stolen car. Johnson, who left behind eight children and stepchildren, was killed instantly when the stolen car crashed into him.
Officer Timothy Willard of the Paris Police Department died when he was only 22 years old. A report of a suspicious individual outside a factory in December 1978 turned out to be a distraught and armed husband looking to kill his wife. The man fatally shot Willard instead and was then killed by the owner of the factory.
“Timothy’s bravery saved the life of the woman in the factory and perhaps many others,” said Mills.
There is one name on the memorial of a man even younger than Willard. Mertley Johnston was 21 years old when he and fellow game warden David Brown, 52, disappeared in November 1922 while they were looking for poachers in the Allagash area. Their bodies were not found until spring.
“It is still unknown whether they were shot, beaten or accidentally drowned,” said Mills. “Their deaths, presumed suspicious, remain a mystery to this day.”
The warden service holds the sad distinction of suffering the most recent loss of an officer. Daryl R. Gordon, a 25-year veteran, died when his plane crashed on March 24, 2011 in Piscataquis County. Also mentioned during Thursday’s ceremony was Warden Service Maj. Gregg Sanborn, who died in February of this year after a highly publicized battle with cancer. Sanborn’s name will not be added to the memorial because his death was unrelated to the job he held for 23 years.
The warden service has seen 15 of its officers killed in the line of duty, more than any other department in Maine. The Maine State Police has lost 10 officers, according to spokesman Steve McCausland.
Mills’ examples struck close to home for some. Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, said emotions swelled inside him as the attorney general talked about his grandfather, Joseph Honore Dutremble, who was shot dead by a car thief in April of 1932. He left behind 13 children, including Sen. Dutremble’s father, who was six months old at the time.
“It was incredibly breathtaking and emotional,” said Dutremble after the ceremony. “It was great to see the men and women who make so many sacrifices for our state be honored for what they do.”
Mills put the fallen officers on a pedestal all by themselves, but not only because of their ultimate sacrifice.
“Each of these men was taking care of their neighbors, looking out for the safety of their town, just as all of you are committed to looking out for the people of Maine,” said Mills to the assembled officers, who closed down State Street in front of the state capitol for the ceremony. “These men should not be remembered solely because they died or because of how they died. They should be remembered too for the thousand other daily acts of heroism and duty during their lifetimes — the lost children they found, the thefts spoiled, the assaults prevented, the victims rescued, the crimes solved, the burglaries punished — the good deeds these men performed routinely, like a day in the life of every man and woman in uniform here today, done with courteous smiles and professional readiness, ever on call, always expecting the unexpected.”