By JB Clark
TUPELO – Law enforcement officers, their families and community members gathered Thursday in front of City Hall for the 14th year to celebrate the memories of officers who have died in the line of duty in Northeast Mississippi.
This year was more difficult than some, having lost three officers in the year since the last memorial.
Two of the six officers killed in the line of duty in Mississippi last year were from Northeast Mississippi – Tupelo Police Sgt. Gale Stauffer and Union County Sheriff’s Deputy Clinton Frazier, who were killed within a week of each other.
In 2014, the only Mississippi officer killed in the line of duty is Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Master Sgt. John Collum of Fulton.
Union County Chief Deputy Roger Garner spoke of Frazier – his friend and fallen officer.
“Dec. 18 brought home the reality for us that there is no typical call – it was a game-changer for our department,” he said. “I’ve noticed the guys spend a little more time watching out for each other to make sure no one goes to a call alone, to make sure dispatch knows where we are.”
Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre read a poem his wife wrote about his attitude and emotional state following the death of one of his officers Dec. 23 because he said he didn’t have the words to describe what he was feeling – just that he’d failed to protect one of his own.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson remembered how proud he was of the community he serves as he drove through Stauffer’s funeral procession with FBI Special Agent in Charge Daniel McMullen.
“He has seen many tragedies and great loss of life but this one was different and it was not because of the tragedy but because of how the community reacted,” Johnson said. “He told me, ‘I understand why you do what you do because I do it, but after being up here this week, it makes sense not only why you do it, but why you do it where you do it.’ It’s because of the community.”
John Harmon, father of Lee County deputy jailer Casey Harmon, who was killed March 2, 1998, by an inmate, began the Northeast Mississippi Fallen Heroes Memorial 14 years ago to remember his son and the four other law enforcement officers who had been killed in the area before his son.
Now, he said, he is happy to see the memorial can provide solace for the families of the six officers killed since his son as well.
“Being in contact with a lot of the victims’ families through Survival Inc. and advocacy work, I’ve gotten to know a lot of them and you have to walk in our shoes before you can understand what it’s all about,” Harmon said. “It means a whole lot to see this happen every year.”
Tupelo Police Cpl. Rob Edwards, who lead the service Thursday, told the story of how he remembers his fallen friend.
“I had the unique job of receiving (Stauffer’s) property from the hospital when he died,” Edwards said. “One of the things I had gotten was his nameplate. I remember having a conversation with Gale many months ago where he complained to me about his nameplate – that it wasn’t shiny enough. It was scratched up and scarred. Time passed on and we never got him a new nameplate, but when I got it at the hospital I had to take a picture – to remember who he was and what he was. He was rough and tough on the outside, but a big teddy bear on the inside. He was our brother and he was our teammate.”