AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds of law enforcement and emergency services personnel wearing their dress uniforms lined the curved driveway to the Augusta Civic Center on Friday morning as the ashes of Fryeburg police Officer Nathan M. Desjardins arrived for a tribute service.
As the officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians gathered to pay their respects to the first Maine officer to die in the line of duty in more than six years, the steady rainfall suddenly stopped.
Desjardins’ fellow Fryeburg officers stood at attention and saluted as the hearse carrying his ashes and family arrived. His urn was escorted inside by a Maine state trooper and a Maine game warden. They passed through a color guard made up of members of law enforcement agencies from around the state. Desjardins’ family followed.
The Rev. Kate Braestrup, chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, in her homily, made public after the tribute, said Desjardins’ had “a hero’s heart.”
“Here was a human being who, having been nurtured by a loving, responsible family, grew up — and stepped up — to become the one who cares for others, protects others and is responsible for others,” she said.
Braestrup’s first husband, Trooper Drew Griffith, was killed at the age of 34 in the line of duty in 1996 when his cruiser was struck by an ice truck. She told the assemblage Friday that it takes a “hero’s heart” to be a public safety officer.
“It has to be a hero’s heart because loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself — that isn’t safe,” the chaplain said. “Service isn’t safe, and the more vital the service is, the more we put at risk. A law enforcement officer routinely puts everything he’s got, everything he is, in danger — body, mind and life. And he does this for love.
“That’s not what makes police work happy, but it is what makes police work — Nathan’s work, your work — holy.”
At the end of the hourlong service, the officers who had come to pay their respects stood in the rain as the urn was returned to the hearse. Grief-stricken Fryeburg police officers flanked the vehicle, their white-gloved hands resting on its hood as it inched away from the building.
Desjardins died June 6 at Central Medical Center in Lewiston from injuries sustained in a boat crash May 27 while responding to a call to search for a missing canoeist on the Saco River.
After the service, an emotional Fryeburg Police Chief Joshua Potvin spoke to reporters outside the Civic Center:
“We are grateful to the law enforcement departments in Maine, New Hampshire and throughout our nation for their guidance, support and words of encouragement, especially the Maine Warden Service and Maine State Police. I am also thankful to so many in the Fryeburg community for their support during this tragedy.”
Before joining the Fryeburg department, Dejardins worked part time last summer for the Freeport Police Department. Freeport’s Lt. Nathaniel Goodman said, “Nathan exhibited an uncommon trait among many young people in that he was able to juggle an 18-credit-hour workload at the University of New England, along with a job as EMT at Delta Ambulance, and he was field training working towards part-time status as a police officer. And, that’s a difficult thing for anyone to juggle, let alone someone who’s 20 years old.
“He exemplified the type of person we are looking for in a police candidate. And we were fortunate to have a chance to work with him,” Goodman continued. “Today is truly a tough day for the law enforcement community in Maine as well as the citizens of Maine.”
Desjardins of Albion was Maine’s 85th law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty. The most recent was Daryl R. Gordon, 60, of the Maine Warden Service, who died on March 24, 2011, in a plane crashed on Clear Lake in a remote section of Piscataquis County. The first was Ebenezer Parker,, who was killed in the line of duty in 1808 while working for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.
Desjardins’ was killed on the first day of his water rescue training with Fryeburg Police Department. A second officer, Dale Strout, was operating the boat when it struck an obstacle that sent both men into the water. Strout was injured but has since been released from the hospital.
A native of Waterville, Desjardins would have celebrated his 21st birthday on Tuesday, June 12.
“He had completed his third year at the University of New England, School of Nursing, in Biddeford and had a clear vision of using his education to better his contribution to police departments, EMT service or any agency called upon to assist others in time of need,” his family said in his obituary.
“He was a focused individual who wanted to make a difference in this world by contributing whatever he could, wherever he could, whenever he could,” his obituary said. “His was to be a selfless life with a relationship with God foremost; others second and himself third; such was his compassion. Even in death he gave of himself as an organ donor so others could enjoy life a little better.”
Desjardins is survived by his parents, Nicole (Proulx) Desjardins and Brian Desjardins; his brother, Ross Desjardins; his grandmother, Susan Proulx; as well as a very large extended family and circle of friends.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 9 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 72 Pleasant St., Waterville. A celebration of his life will follow from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Notre Dame Catholic Church Hall, 110 Silver St., Waterville. A tribute to Nate will then be held at 1 p.m. at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, 15 Oak Grove Road, located off Route 201, Vassalboro.