HARRISONBURG — As an investigator in Missouri in 2005, Harrisonburg Police Chief Stephen Monticelli received a phone call he’ll never forget. He was assigned a case no investigator wants to handle — the death of a fellow officer.
Officer Molly Bowden of the Columbia Police Department was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop.
Monticelli, who became chief of the Harrisonburg department in June 2012, was the lead investigator in the case.
“Our officers work every day to protect our citizens,” Monticelli said today during a flag-raising ceremony honoring the area’s fallen officers. “This is a time to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
About 100 police officers, firefighters and community members gathered at the Harrisonburg Public Safety Building for the ceremony, part of National Police Week. The annual event was established in 1962 to pay tribute to law enforcement.
During the ceremony, HPD’s chaplain, Tom Murphy, provided prayer, and Heather Higgins, a dispatcher with Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Emergency Communications Center, played taps on a bugle.
Three officers from Rockingham County and Harrisonburg have been shot and killed since 1959. Another local officer died in a car crash while on duty.
Harrisonburg Police Department Sgt. Manuel W. Trenary, a 26-year veteran, was shot and killed by an unknown burglar as he investigated a break-in at the L&S Diner at 255 N. Liberty St. in October 1959.
Bridgewater officer Wayne Stoutamyer died after being shot in May 1976 by a suspect he previously had arrested on a driving under the influence charge.
In February 1983, Rockingham County sheriff's deputy John Rafter was shot and killed as he transported a prisoner to the Augusta County Jail.
Grottoes Police Chief William Davis Jr. died in July 1988 when his police car crashed on Va. 256 near Weyers Cave.
‘They Put Duty First’
Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst, who was honored by HPD today with a plaque for her commitment to law enforcement, served as keynote speaker for the ceremony.
In the last year, she said, officers have responded to calls for a number of heinous crimes, including murders and rapes.
“It’s not just a call for service, it’s a call for justice,” she said, adding that officers are often sent out into danger to protect the community. “Every day our local law enforcement officer dons [his or her] badge, it’s a target. They put duty first.”
She said they often sacrifice time with their families on holidays to protect the community. She noted that the last two murders in Harrisonburg occurred just before Christmas. One of the slayings came two days before the holiday. The other occurred on Christmas Eve.
“For the last two years, investigators haven’t had a Christmas,” she said, adding that they were too committed to seeking justice for the victims’ families to take time off.
During the speech she also called on the community to provide officers with better pay and benefits for police officers.
“They are the soldiers of our streets,” she said. “We need to have their backs.”
Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson was among those in attendance. He said the ceremony — and what it stands for — is important, not only for police officers, but for the families of those killed in the line of duty.
“You let them know that they are still part of the family,” said Hutcheson. “You don’t want to forget that they paid the ultimate sacrifice.”