NORMAN — Heroes, foot soldiers, warriors, patriots, protectors and public servants: These were just some of the words used to describe law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty during this year’s Law Enforcement Memorial Service.
Co-hosted by the Norman Police Department and Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office, Friday’s afternoon service honored the sacrifices of several Cleveland County officers from 1912 to 1998.
NPD Chief Keith L. Humphrey, speaking at the event, said no matter the officer’s cause of death — be it because of gunfire, explosions or medical, vehicle or weather related — the 471 officers who have died in the line of duty in Oklahoma’s history of policing must never be forgotten.
While addressing the audience, Cleveland County Sheriff Joseph K. Lester referenced John 15:13.
“No greater sacrifice can you do than to lay your life down for another, and I commend those who did that,” Lester said.
Among those honored were Deputy William H. Abbott, Deputy Grover Fulkerson, Lt. Jerry W. Bratcher, Patrolman Melvin Miner, Rona Chafey and Sergeant Dale DeBerry.
Abbott, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office deputy, died on Feb. 17, 1912, after being shot by a suspect while on duty on Feb. 14, 1912. He was 40 years old and was survived by a wife and eight children.
Caroline Abbott Mayfield, Abbott’s granddaughter, said she has been coming to the memorial service every year for about 10 years.
“It makes me extremely sad but I am very proud of him,” she said.
Fulkerson, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy, was shot by a suspect while on duty on Aug. 24, 1917. He was 30 years old. On the night Fulkerson was killed, he was guarding the Canadian River Bridge against “Night Riders.”
Bratcher, Norman Police Department detective lieutenant, was killed in a traffic collision in rural east Norman while on duty on Nov. 24, 1963. He was 29 years old and was survived by his wife and three children.
Miner, Norman Police Department patrolman minor, was shot by a suspect while on duty on July 30, 1972. He was 25 years old and was survived by his ex-wife and son.
Chafey, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office employee, was killed April 19, 1995, during the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing. She was 35 years old and was survived by her husband, two children, her parents and two siblings.
DeBerry, Norman Police Department sergeant, died from a heart attack on Dec. 1, 1998, during a physical fitness training course. He was 41 years old and was survived by his wife and two children.
Tonya DeBerry, DeBerry’s widow, said the memorial reminds her of the importance of law enforcement service.
“I just think it’s a wonderful way to honor him and the others for protecting us, being the men in blue,” she said.
The memorial service included a presentation of colors, singing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and guest speaker United States Secret Service Oklahoma Special Agent in Charge Adrian Andrews.
“How do we honor them? How do we honor their lives? My office in the Secret Service office here in Oklahoma City, there’s a memorial to the folks who passed away in the bombing. We have pictures, we have plaques and we have flags and we can gather every year and say nice things about them,” Andrews said. “What I plan to do, what I’d like to do, is be a living memorial for those who have fallen. And this is how I’ll do it, three different ways: I want to train harder, I want to sharpen my skills and I want to be a consonant professional.”
After Andrews’ speech, family members of the fallen were presented red roses, and then escorted by an officer to leave the flowers at the base of a memorial near the police department building.
The service ended with a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps.