WASHINGTON, D.C. - On September 11, 2001, America witnessed an extreme example of just how much our nation's police officers are willing to give for the safety and protection of others.
Seventy two officers died that day. It was the deadliest in law enforcement history. But what too many people fail to realize is that the heroic and selfless sacrifice seen on 9-11 is happening every day in communities throughout the country. Most cops will tell you that helping people in need is the moment they live for, even if it means putting their own life at risk.
For Kevin Welsh, a police officer in Washington, D.C., that moment came on August 4, 1986. A 64-year-old woman had jumped off a bridge in an attempt to commit suicide. Officer Welsh and his partner, James Fremeau, were among the first to arrive on the scene. They saw the woman floating about 50 feet from shore in the dangerous and swift currents of the Anacostia River. Without even thinking twice, both officers jumped in to make the rescue. The woman was pulled to safety, but Officer Welsh was not so lucky. Before other officers could come to his aid, he was dragged under and drowned, leaving behind a pregnant wife and two young children.
The job of a correctional officer is to protect society from the prisoners behind the bars. But they also must protect the prisoners from each other, even if it means putting themselves in harm's way. On November 29, 1995, Arkansas Corrections Sergeant Scott Grimes and his fellow officers were conducting a shower call, where inmates are handcuffed and removed from their cell to take a shower. While Sergeant Grimes was escorting one of the prisoners, another inmate charged at them with a homemade knife. He was looking for revenge, not against Sergeant Grimes, but against the prisoner he was escorting. In an attempt to protect the handcuffed and defenseless prisoner, Sergeant Grimes jumped between the two inmates as was stabbed twice in the chest. Even though Sergeant Grimes was mortally wounded, he managed to hang on to the attacking inmate until other officers came to his aid. He died less than an hour later.
Mary T. Davis, a matron with the Wilmington, Del. Police Department, was another correctional officer who put the safety and well-being of the inmates above her own. On May 11, 1924, Matron Davis was put in charge of a female prisoner named Annie Lewis, who had been arrested for threatening her husband with a pistol. Lewis was the only female prisoner in the cellblock that day and Matron Davis was alone with her. When she discovered water coming out of Lewis's jail cell, Matron Davis unlocked the cell door and went in to fix her inmate's plumbing problem. What she did not know was that Lewis had actually broken the water pipe leading to the sink and had used it to break pieces of concrete from the cell wall, in an escape attempt. As soon as Matron Davis entered the cell, Lewis picked up one of the chunks of concrete and launched a vicious and fatal attack.
Department records reflect that the funeral procession for the 64-year-old police matron was the largest Wilmington had ever seen. The inscription on her gravestone helps explain why. It reads, "Mary T. Davis - A Friend to All."
Deputy Sheriff Charles Barton worked in the fugitive section of the Loudoun County (VA) Sheriff's Department. "Charlie had a fantastic knack for bringing people in who didn't want to come in," according to his boss, Sheriff John Isom. In August 1995, Charlie was en route to pick up one of those fugitives. It was to have been a routine extradition. He was headed to Mississippi, along with Deputy Tod Thompson, to extradite an 18-year-old suspect charged with writing bad checks. Deputies Barton and Thompson had just left Atlanta, on the final leg of their flight to Mississippi, when their plane disappeared from the radar screen. The plane had experienced engine trouble and it crashed about 17 minutes after takeoff.
Both officers survived the crash, but before they made their way out of the plane, they stopped to help other passengers escape safely. Suddenly, though, the plane exploded and Deputy Barton got hit hard by a flash of fire. He clung to life for another 14 hours, but his burns were simply too severe and he died the next morning. Deputy Thompson made it out alive and remembered his dedicated friend this way: "When the bell rang, Charlie went to work."
On October 3, 1994, the New Hampshire State Police were called on to save an elderly man who had a stash of weapons and was threatening suicide. The man had been extremely depressed ever since his wife died earlier in the year. They had been married for 50 years and the man still had the flag in his front yard displayed at half-staff as a sign of his grief. The man's son went to police for help. The SWAT team, led by Sergeant James Noyes, was called in to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff. Throughout the night Sergeant Noyes talked to the man through an open window. Progress was seemingly being made. The man even passed a few of his guns out the window, but he kept hold of one. Toward morning he became despondent again and appeared on the verge of shooting himself or someone else.
It was a critical decision point and police decided to take action. The plan called for Sergeant Noyes to drop a percussion grenade through the open window. The man would be stunned momentarily, giving the SWAT team time to enter the house and end the siege. But just as the grenade was being dropped, the man fired several shots at Sergeant Noyes, one of which pierced his heart and killed him. The man then fired two more shots, killing his loyal dog, Bandit, and then himself.
Mark Phebus believed strongly in the time-honored traditions of the Texas Department of Public Safety-the nation's oldest state police agency. The department's motto is "Courtesy, Service and Protection." Trooper Phebus lived that motto to the fullest, even on his days off. On September 17, 1990, just seven months after he became a Texas State Trooper, Mark was returning to Houston after a weekend visit with friends in Oklahoma. It was after midnight when he spotted what appeared to be a two-car accident along the side of the road. He stopped to offer assistance and immediately identified himself as a state trooper. Unknowingly to Trooper Phebus, though, the traffic accident was actually the result of a violent domestic dispute between a man and his estranged wife. When Trooper Phebus went to retrieve a flashlight from his car, the man got a handgun. He took dead aim at Mark's face and pulled the trigger.
At the funeral, Pastor Wayne Hicks said, "[Trooper Phebus] chose to live a life of service to others . . . he died for what he believed in. He may have saved a woman's life that night. Mark died a death of honor and valor."