Candlelight Vigil Honors Heroes

By Nicholas Deckmejian

A20ALL(3)They came to remember the names of heroes. Heroes who committed themselves to the true meaning of what it is to be a law enforcer – a protector of the people.

On July 12, residents and police officers from throughout Monmouth County united to honor these heroes for responding to fear with bravery and sacrificing their lives during the deadly shootings in Dallas, Texas.

Police departments from all over the county, along with an overwhelming turnout of the local community, gathered at Monmouth County’s Police Academy in Freehold, standing together to listen to the sympathetic, yet empowering, words of various community leaders.

Sheriff Shaun Golden began with the Call to Order, followed by the presentation of colors led by Monmouth County Police Pipe and Drums, along with Honor Guards from Holmdel, Howell, Hazlet, and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

Because it was Officer Chris Cherney who had sparked the idea of a candlelight vigil, he had the honor of leading everyone in the pledge of allegiance, which was then followed by an invocation given by Monsignor Philip Lowrey.

Sheriff Golden retook the podium, welcoming everyone to the ceremony and thanking them all for gathering together to help remember the heroes who lost their lives. He introduced the dignitaries that were in attendance, including Monmouth County Freeholders, state officials, and municipal officials. Shifting attention to the crowd, he thanked the various departments for coming together, acknowledged the support from their fellow first responders in EMS and fire, and expressed deep appreciation for the overwhelming turnout of civilians.

The vigil then led to a series of speakers, beginning with Acting Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni. Honored with the chance to speak, he admitted that “ordinary words fail” to capture the potency of emotions in response to the recent events, but that this vigil would do its best to honor their sacrifice. In remembering the lives of the fallen officers, he asked that their deaths not be in vain, and that we as a society carry on through their example of selflessness and bravery. “We are all flawed creatures,” he said. “But we are smart enough to remember humanity amongst our fellow citizens”

Pastor Mark White echoed the sentiment of honoring our losses by doing all we can to love each other. If we all put others in front of ourselves, he advised, none of us would be last, but the only way to do so is to acknowledge that we are all the same, adding, “If you cut me and I cut you, our blood is still red.”

Chief John Sorrentino, president of the MCPCA, focused on the bravery of those in uniform who ran towards gunfire while others fled.  He said that he has never, and will never, use the term “hero” lightly, yet after the type of valor that took place in the face of evil, Chief Sorrentino declared that the officers in Dallas are “truly heroes.”

Many more representatives of the law enforcement community shared their emotions with the crowd, each using different words and phrases, but all essentially bearing the same message: We, as a nation, are to never forget the names and actions of the Dallas officers, and to keep their memories alive, we must all live our lives with even more profound love and courage.

Reverend David Cotton was the last to speak, lamenting how sick and tired he is of finding darkness everywhere he turns. He asked the crowd if they were just as fed up with the anger and hatred in the world, and said that it’s time to shun it all and turn towards the light – not to spend time focusing on the ones who brought the evil, but telling stories of heroes who leaped into danger to protect others. The vigil was there to manifest this, as Rev. Cotton explained that one little candle might not do much, but together, we can light the world. “Tonight, we do not honor the darkness. Tonight, we honor the light,” he stated.

The words of all the humble speakers were followed by the Monmouth County Police Pipe and Drums’ rendition of “Amazing Grace,” which united the crowd through the sounds of bagpipes in a solemn, yet beautiful moment of remembrance.

Then, after the placing of a large wreath to collectively remember the fallen officers, all the police chiefs stood and prepared for roll call. With every placement of the five individual wreaths, the officers were each given their final call. First, the officer’s name and badge were called into the silent crowd. Then there was a pause, and his name and badge were called again. And then again, before announcing his end of watch and declared 10-7.

After all five received their final call and had their wreaths placed, the crowd took up their candles and began to illuminate the area softly in the twilight. A moment of silence was called upon, and the flag of Texas was raised and then lowered to half mast, followed by the playing of Taps.

As the Texas flag swung gently in the breeze, the somberness in the air laid heavily over the crowd as the flames from candles danced.  The vigil could have ended there, with everyone walking away with lowered heads and teary eyes, but there was one last thing left on the agenda. Together, the crowd of civilians, law enforcers, first responders, and dignitaries united their voices and sang “God Bless America.” They sang with all their hearts to conclude an evening of raw emotion, and while they still left with the sorrow of loss, they also departed with a reinforced sense of pride for their homeland and the confidence to start making tomorrow a better day.