Solemn Signs of Heroism

Solemn Signs of Heroism

By Stephen Owsinski

Law enforcement officers everywhere know they have chosen a profession that could end their existence at any moment. Despite this omen, they forge on with that ominous cloud hovering wherever their duty boots step, which is heroic momentum. With that, casualties are tolled and homage is lavished.

Physical signs of heroism mark street corners, parks, bridges, buildings, and highways, named after brave cops who confronted evil and paid the ultimate price. Some become namesakes of police canines. Others grace memorial sites.

(Photo courtesy of the NYPD.)

We see these signs and are reminded of the raw reality for police officials: that every duty day may be their last. But paying homage to our fallen brothers and sisters is infinite. We gather and commemorate right where their End of Watch (EOW) inscriptions punctuate the tale of the tragedy of cops who laid down their life so that others may live.

In its respectful ritual of renaming streets for police heroes, the NYPD recently unveiled a brand new street sign, in a thin-blue-line hue trimmed with white, portraying the name Detective Wilbert Mora who was slain in January 2022, by a domestic violence suspect armed with a handgun.

Detective Mora was maintained on life support for four days; doctors collected four of his organs for waiting recipients, giving life even in a medically induced coma. Those same organ recipients will now get to commemorate the brave policeman who acted heroically

(Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Department.)

According to a bulletin posted by the NYPD, the official street renamed in honor of Detective Mora had a sign fastened right outside of the neighborhood school he attended, in the area he grew up.   

Similarly, NYPD Officer Gerard Carter was slain on duty in 1998, when he was 28 years old. Then, a concrete memorial stood in his honor at a Housing Police facility until it closed. The 120th Precinct command staff coordinated a plan to relocate the memorial site on the grounds of a station in Staten Island, one of NYC’s five boroughs (counties).

(Photo courtesy of the NYC Police Benevolent Association.)

“The 120 Pct. welcomed Jozette Carter-Williams, widow of fallen Housing P.O. Gerard Carter, to show her the memorial to her hero husband which was just relocated to the command from the now-closed Staten Island Housing Unit command,” explained a precinct press release.

The very bottom of the stone memorial has the words “Our Angelic Watchman,” noting how loved ones and colleagues, and community members remember the man who heroically went out there looking to arrest bad actors.

Per the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), “Officer Carter and his partner were sitting in a marked police van outside of a New York City Housing Authority building when the suspect [and armed fugitive with a warrant for his arrest] approached them and shot Officer Carter in the temple. Officer Carter’s partner was able to return fire but did not hit the suspect.”

And the memorial site depicted above is not the only commemorative dedication in Officer Carter’s name. “The Gerard Carter Community Center, located at 230 Broad St. in Stapleton, opened in 2011. There also is a street named in his memory,” an ODMP spokesperson cited.

On July 15, 2018, Sergeant Michael C. Chesna of the Weymouth Police Department responded to “reports of an erratic [vehicle] operator.”

From the Weymouth Police Department site: “Upon arrival, he observed the vehicle had crashed and the driver was vandalizing a home nearby. Sergeant Chesna was struck in the head with a large rock, disarmed and fatally shot by the suspect, who also fatally shot Vera Adams in her home.”

(Photo courtesy of Lt. Steven Dearth.)

After browsing some commentary regarding Sgt. Chesna’s line-of-duty death (LODD), I came upon mention of his family purchasing the billboard space you see above.

This billboard appears to be an LED-equipped one, so the nighttime illumination must be quite a sight for sworn eyes, all eyes, traversing by its towering presence hallmarking heroism.

One of the other methods employed to honor our fallen police heroes is by renaming portions of the highway after a cop who perished there in the course of duty.

From our brothers/sisters at the Los Angeles Airport Police Department, we have the dedicated site and sign depicting “Officer Tommy Scott Memorial Highway.” Here is the horrific story surrounding this hero and the sign:

“Officer Tommy Scott was killed after stopping a suspicious man near Los Angeles International Airport.

(Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Airport Police Officers Association.)

“After the stop was made, a physical confrontation occurred, and the suspect wrestled away from Officer Scott. The suspect jumped into the driver’s seat of the patrol car, and with Officer Scott struggling to pull him out, sped off at speeds that reached 50 to 60 mph. The suspect then drove the police vehicle onto the sidewalk where Officer Scott was thrown into a fire hydrant and killed instantly.”

It was a similar sign at the intersection of Lumsden Road/Kings Avenue in Brandon, Florida, that I drove by yesterday that gave rise to this topic today, involving a fallen county deputy whom I knew, whom I bumped into at the county courthouse, a great man who looked out for all his squad mates (especially the DUI unit he supervised), a superb steward whose public-safety principles were unparalleled, whose smile couldn’t be turned upside-down.

Evil entered the frame…

On August 15, 2007, Sgt. Ron Harrison had just finished a DUI checkpoint and was headed home. He was momentarily stopped at a traffic signal when a lone gunman walked up to his sheriff’s office cruiser and pumped bullets through the passenger-side window. Sgt. Harrison was struck several times.

“Sergeant Harrison activated his lights and siren and tried to drive off but lost control of his patrol car, struck another vehicle, and then crashed into a tree,” the ODMP site described.

A short time later, the shooter’s girlfriend called the sheriff’s office and claimed she thought her boyfriend was involved in shooting Sgt. Harrison. A SWAT team descended on the assailant’s home, a standoff ensued, and culminated in an exchange of gunfire which ended the cop-killer’s life.

Regarding official street signs renamed after fallen LEOs, each one undergoes a process involving the Department of Transportation in the state where a police proposal is written to petition an official sign manifest in their colleague’s honor.

Some of these solid signs also garner endorsements from the State Legislature, as seen in the following brief video unveiling the sign honoring slain Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Deputy Brian LaVigne:

Once all specs are considered and a location is chosen, traffic departments have their technicians manufacture the sign, after which road crews erect it at a pre-established coordinate.

Ordinarily, an official proclamation goes in the books (government archives denoting the detailed purpose for the sign) and is usually read aloud at the unveiling ceremony.

Sometimes the sign is not necessarily an official type typically erected by transportation departments but one less universal, more decorative, and standout.

(Photo courtesy of the NYC Police Benevolent Association.)

“The street by our 66 Pct. brother P.O. Adeed Fayaz’s home in Deer Park now bears his name. It is a reminder not only of his heroic sacrifice but of our responsibility to care for his family and seek justice on his behalf,” read an NYC Police Benevolent Association press release.

Officer Fayaz was off duty, seeking to purchase an SUV he saw listed on Facebook Marketplace. The seller had no intention of selling the auto, intending to rob Fayaz instead. The armed assailant reportedly said, “Where’s the money?” and then shot Officer Fayaz in the head, killing him. Fayaz is a hero for filling the shoes of a public safety professional despite the ubiquity of evildoers, this one at a would-be car sale.

Same as with the official signs and/or anyone wishing to erect one, it goes through a process before approval, then the sign shop crafting one, followed by a road crew anchoring a pole topped with the name of a police hero.

Also common are law enforcement agencies putting forth funds to manufacture signs honoring their fallen heroes, such as the Girard Police Department did for slain Officer Justin Leo who perished in the line of duty on 10-21-17 while investigating a domestic violence call.

(Photo courtesy of the Girard Police Department.)

Any proliferation of signs honoring a fallen law enforcement officer is a sign marking the spot of heroism, reminding motorists and pedestrians that folks have fallen in service and protection to them. As HCSO Deputy Brian Lavigne’s widow welcomed: “When you drive past that sign, just think of Brian — just Brian.”

Signs of heroism everywhere we turn…a stark reminder of everything put on the line by our nation’s law enforcement officers.