On a solemn rainy Thursday, members of the Ohio’s law enforcement paid their respects to their fallen comrades during the 30th annual Ohio Peace Officer’s Memorial.
Hundreds of peace officers and their families gathered at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy at 1650 State Route 56 in London to remember all of those slain in the line of duty, including five officers who gave their lives in 2016.
Union County Sheriff’s Deputy Seth McDowell was among those who spoke during the ceremony. He remembered his father, Whitehall Police Officer Terry McDowell, who was killed in the line of duty in 2001.
The elder Officer McDowell was shot and killed as he and his partner attempted to serve a traffic citation to a woman at her home for driving without a license. Deputy McDowell was eight years old at the time.
“I remember waking up, August 26, 2001 to a day that would change my life forever,” he said. “To hear your daddy is not coming home is hard to process at eight years old.”
The Union County deputy recalled that the loss of his father, whom he considered his biggest role model made his childhood difficult.
“I never wanted to hang out with friends and their families. How could anything be right again?”
Support from his friends, family and community members, including law enforcement, helped him get through it all.
“Ever since I was young, I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps as a police officer and help the community stay safe,” he said. “That all changed when someone took my father away from me. I told myself since August 2001, I never wanted to become a police officer.”
Through his support network and training with police dogs, his inspiration returned and he trained to become a member of Ohio’s Law Enforcement community.
This had helped him work for other positive ends as well.
“As a survivor, I have had the privilege of joining Ohio Concerns of Police Survivors,” he said. “These organizations are dedicated with helping survivors cope with the tragedy of losing a loved one in the line of duty and for never allowing someone to feel they are alone.”
Working with the group — with other survivors — has helped McDowell get through the tragedy as well and helped him, giving something positive in his life by helping him cope and no longer a victim.
Among those remembered were Officer Steven M. Smith of the Columbus Division of Police and Officer Sean R. Johnson of the Hilliard Division of Police.
Officer Smith, 54, was shot last April during a standoff situation with an individual in connection with an arson investigation.
The suspect had barricaded himself in an apartment and began to fire volleys of gunshots at Columbus police. Smith was providing covering fire out of a turret in an armored vehicle when he was hit.
He was taken to the hospital, where he eventually succumbed to his wounds two days later. He had a varied and eventful career during his 27 years of work with the department, starting on the streets as a patrol officer, to working with the department’s helicopter unit, in the water as a member of the dive team and as a sniper with the SWAT team.
A decorated officer, he received a Blue Star and a Distinguished Service Medal in 2013 after being injured during a shootout while apprehending a murder suspect.
Officer Johnson, 46, died after crashing his motorcycle on a flyover ramp during a training exercise last May. He had joined his department’s Traffic Safety Unit shortly before the accident.
He served 16 years as an officer for the Hilliard Division of Police and was noted for his abilities as a peacemaker from his work as a member of the department’s Crisis Intervention Team.
Johnson had a history of public service, first serving as a senior airman in the Air Force, then as a Fairfield County deputy sheriff, and finally as a state liquor-control agent before eventually joining the Hilliard Police.
Uniformed officers, honor guards and pipe and drum marchers from several law enforcement agencies, proceeded to commemorate these men, and the scores of other Ohio peace officers who have been slain in the line of duty. The sound of Taps was played by Ohio State Patrolmen Kelly Weakley and Christopher Krantz.
“When a peace officer dies as a result of discharging his or her duties, we all feel the loss deeply,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “And whether they were linked to our lives through family or friendship, their loss leaves a void that is difficult to navigate and impossible to measure.”
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.