Pa. fallen trooper honored

Copyright 2006 P.G. Publishing Co.

Joseph Pokorny Shot; During Traffic Stop
Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau 

HERSHEY, Pa. — After a while, Florence Pokorny stopped dabbing the tears and let them linger on her cheeks. She became used to attending memorial services. She began saying "My son was" instead of "My son is."

But she says she'll never grow accustomed to Joseph R. Pokorny Jr.'s absence.

Mr. Pokorny, a state police corporal, was killed with his own gun during a traffic stop in Carnegie in December. He was 45.

The Pennsylvania State Police honored him with a gold cross yesterday at the Police Academy in Harrisburg during its annual memorial service for fallen troopers.

"I'm thankful for all of this, but it won't bring him back. I just want him back," Mrs. Pokorny said.

She and 11 family members waited for the inevitable as troopers read each name on the list, starting with Pvt. John F. Henry and Pvt. Francis A. Zehringer, who were both killed Sept. 2, 1906, in a shootout with gangsters in Jefferson County.

"Ninety-one members of this department have lost their lives in dedicated service to the commonwealth, but their spirits ... cannot die," said Col. Jeffrey B. Miller, state police commissioner.

Mrs. Pokorny swallowed hard as the officers reached the end of the list, called her son's name and described the traffic stop on Dec. 12 that led to a car chase, a violent struggle and finally to shots being fired into her son's chest and head. The alleged shooter, Leslie Mollett, 30, is awaiting trial.

Cpl. Pokorny's "passing represents a great loss to the department and the people of Pennsylvania, whom he served with honor and devotion," Col. Miller said.

Cpl. Pokorny, of Moon, was a 22-year veteran of the department.

His family has been to at least five memorials for the fallen trooper, each as emotional as the last.

"Every day I miss him more, and just when you feel like you might be able to cope, you have to rehash it all over again," said Frank Pokorny, the trooper's brother and a former special teams player with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Still, he said he wouldn't miss any of the services or any of the chances to honor the brother who also was his best friend.

More than 150 troopers and 100 friends and relatives of fallen officers attended yesterday's ceremony, which included a helicopter flyover, an honor guard, a gunfire salute, a bagpiper, two trumpeters and four horses, one riderless to represent the loss of Cpl. Pokorny.

"We appreciate everything people are doing to remember Joe and what a great person he was," Mr. Pokorny said of his brother. "He had that rare combination of extreme intelligence and zero fear that made everyone around him feel comfortable and safe. He always knew what to do."

That's how the trooper's 17-year-old son, also named Joseph Pokorny, will remember him, too.

"He wasn't an average person and you knew just by meeting him that there was something special about him," the teenager said. "He would always approach people like he knew them and would make them feel good."

He remembers, even as a young child, being in awe of his father's job and wanting to be a police officer, too. It's still something he thinks about doing, but the decision is made more difficult now.

"I would see him wearing that uniform and I knew he did something important and I would just be like, 'That is awesome,' " he said.

Additional remembrances for the 91 officers are planned for today at the state Capitol in Harrisburg and Tuesday at police divisions throughout the state.

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