'They were great cops, and they will surely be missed'

'They were great cops, and they will surely be missed' »Play Video
Police officers kneel at the caskets of four slain Lakewood officers during a memorial service Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009, at the Tacoma Dome. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
TACOMA -- Over 20,000 officers and fire officials from across North America filled the Tacoma Dome Tuesday afternoon to remember four Lakewood police officers who were shot and killed at a coffee shop on Nov. 29.

"We will remember them today," said Gov. Chris Gregoire. "We will remember them always."

Officers from as far away as New York, Chicago and Boston along with over 1,000 Canadian Mounties arrived at the memorial service for Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, and Greg Richards. At last count, Pierce County said there were at least 261 different agencies represented in what is the largest memorial in state history.

The flag-draped coffins of the four officers and their families were escorted into the Tacoma Dome by members of a police honor guard. Dozens of wreaths and bouquets of flowers adorned the stage behind the caskets where speakers were to eulogize the fallen officers. Off to the side, two motorcycles, a drum set and a NASCAR race car each symbolized an item the officers cherished.

Bagpipers and drummers from The Seattle Fire Department Pipes and Drums band led in the color guard to begin the ceremony. After a demonstration by the Washington State Patrol rifle drill team, officers from the Lakewood Police Department brought memorial banners with the names of the fallen and adorned them to the Lakewood Police Department flag set behind the coffins.

"If these officers were here this afternoon, to an officer they would tell you on November 29th, 'I was doing my duty,' " said Lakewood Mayor Doug Richardson. "And there is no higher calling than to do one's duty and they served well."

In addition to eulogies from family, friends and public officials, mourners watched a video tribute to the officers who were killed by a lone gunman as they sat at a coffee shop before the start of their shift.

"Listen to what people say today about these folks, they were good people, and they were great cops and they will truly be missed," said Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar.

Assistant Police Chief Mike Villa with the Tukwila Police Department remembered Mike Renninger from his days on the Tukwila force, praising his work ethics and investigative skills.

"It was a pleasure for me to learn from such a man," Villa said. "He taught me a lot. I will not forget Mark, the good that he did, or the life that he led."

Lakewood Assistant Police Chief Mike Zaro spoke of how Renninger's leadership helped him in his own job.

"I recognized early that my worry over SWAT was much less when I knew Mark was there leading the team," Zaro said. "Mark's experience, calm demeanor and professionalism eased by concerns and I knew that the mission and the team were taken care of."

He says now that Renninger has been taken from us, they are without the person so many of them relied on.

"We are left to always remember the man he was, follow the example he set, cherish the family and friends he left behind and I know that no matter where I am in my career, for years to come, I will always look for Mark's approval from the back of the room."

Co-worker Pamella Battersby remembered Officer Tina Griswold as a tough, no-nonsense woman.

"Her partners joked that the fastest way to break up a bar fight was to throw Tina into the middle of it," Battersby said. "In spite of the toughness of her law enforcement job, she enjoyed being a woman. We have comfort in the fact that Tina is with God and we will see here again."

Until then, she asked that you keep her in your thoughts.

"Continue this closeness," Battersby said. "Look into your hearts to see what you can do to be a better person, mother, father, child, husband, wife or friend. Please, don't let the memory of these four officers die here."

Ronda LeFrancois remembered her brother Ronnie Owens as the rock of their family.

"He was such a kind and gentle man," she said. "Ronnie's greatest joy in life was being a father. He enjoyed spending every free moment he had with (daughter) Maddie. She is Daddy's girl. I know how much he was looking forward to watching his daughter's first basketball games this season. I know Ronnie will be watching her every game from Heaven.

"I thank God every day we had Ronnie."

The three children of slain officer Greg Richards remembered their father as a hero to many, even before he became a policeman.

"He had a smile and laugh that radiated like sunshine and it radiated around him," said his 17-year-old son Austin Richards. "He was born with a kind heart and the courage to do what's right."

"He said it was always a privilege to drive that (police) car, wear a uniform and get a paycheck for it."

15-year-old daughter Jami-Mae Richards said his father wanted them always cherish their loved ones' memories, laugh, and enjoy the simple things in life every day.

"He taught us the importance of having good friends and how to be one," she said.

Youngest son Gavin, 10, said he knew is Dad would be proud and honored by the outpouring of love at the memorial.

"It shows us how strong the bond is between men and women in uniform and how wide it spreads and we love you all because you all love him."

The Lakewood officers were killed Nov. 29 before the start of their shift. Authorities say Maurice Clemmons singled them out and spared employees and other customers at the coffee shop in Parkland. Clemmons was shot to death last week by a Seattle police officer after a two-day manhunt. Prosecutors said he received help from family and friends, and seven people have been arrested.

The overwhelming outpouring of grief and support was apparent at McChord Air Force Base Tuesday morning, where well over 2,000 police and fire vehicles gathered to make the 10-mile trek to the memorial site. At 10 a.m., the first of the line began to leave in single file, each passing under a large American flag held by two fire department ladder trucks. A steady stream of police cars and fire trucks from across North America passed under the arch for nearly 3 1/2 hours.

As the procession passed through Lakewood on its way to Tacoma, streets were lined with people holding American flags and signs, many with their hands on their hearts or saluting. Some had been out in the frigid 20-degree weather since 9:30 a.m.

The procession was so expansive, officials delayed the expected start of the 1 p.m. memorial for about an hour to give time for all of the people in the procession to reach the Tacoma Dome.

"We will never be able to express the true appreciation that we feel to the untold thousands of people who have kept us going this week," Farrar said.

With officers filling most of the Tacoma Dome, officials set up alternate sites for the public to view the memorial, including the Tacoma campus of the University of Washington, Olson Auditorium at Pacific Lutheran University, and the Christian Faith Center in Federal Way.

Gregoire directed that flags at all state agency facilities be lowered to half-staff Tuesday.

"We will continue the cause of justice," she said. "And if in another time, another place, we meet those we honor today, we will be proud to tell them we kept our promise."

And she thanked the thousands of officers who travelled near and far to honor their four brethren.

"Please know that we are a grateful state," Gregoire said.

Fararr says they will grieve, but their will to serve will not waver.

"We have no fear," Farrar said. "We will be careful. We will learn, but we will carry on."

A bell was rung 21 times in the officers' honor. A State Patrol honor guard then folded the flag atop each coffin and Lakewood Chief Bret Farrar presented them to the officers' families.

Near the end of the memorial, dispatchers gave out one last call for each of the four officers, calling each by their badge number and hearing silence in return.

Lakewood 23 out of service...gone, but not forgotten.
Lakewood 101 out of service...gone, but not forgotten.
Lakewood 121 out of service...gone, but not forgotten.
Lakewood 135 out of service....gone, but not forgotten.

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