By Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News
OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. — As April 25 dawned five years ago, the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office was struggling to recover from the scandal of having its leader arrested.
It was hard to imagine things could get worse.
And then the unspeakable happened.
On April 25, 2009, deputies Warren "Skip" York and Burt Lopez were gunned down attempting to take domestic violence suspect Josh Cartwright into custody.
Ed Spooner, who Gov. Charlie Crist brought in to hold the Sheriff's Office together following Sheriff Charlie Morris's arrest, still keeps photos of York and Lopez on his wall.
He called the shootings "probably the most difficult challenge I've ever had to meet in my life."
Burt's wife, Michelle Lopez, said she and Janel York will spend time together today, something that has become a tradition for two "families through tragedy."
They're not counting on an easy go of it.
"Five years is different. It hits you a different way I think," said York.
Sheriff Larry Ashley said the memories of York and Lopez live on at the Sheriff's Office and law enforcement officers hired since 2009 are familiar with their names and sacrifice.
"Burt and Skip were special," he said. "Five years has certainly not made a difference in how much we miss them. We still remember Burt and Skip and their families. Five years is nothing."
York and Lopez will be formally honored along with other fallen law enforcement officers in ceremonies celebrating the week of May 15 as National Police Week.
Okaloosa County deputies, many of whom will have already made contact with the families of their lost friends, will be asked today to pause in quiet reflection for York and Lopez.
"Nothing is worse than losing an officer in the line of duty, Ashley said."
Spooner, now serving as the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Florida, said he will be present May 14 Okaloosa County Law Enforcement Memorial/Appreciation Luncheon at which York and Lopez will be honored with other fallen law enforcement officers.
He has attended every year since 2009.
A May 8 commemoration of National Police Week in Crestview will be particularly special for Janel York, whose 15-year-old son is in the city's Explorer's program that teaches youth basic law enforcement skills.
Michelle Lopez said she will accompany York to the Crestview ceremony and both will also attend a Niceville event May 14.
Janel and Michelle said even as the years have passed, the Sheriff's Office continues to treat them as "a viable part" of the department.
"You may not hear from them all the time, but you know they're there," York said.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 the Northwest Florida Daily News