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Fallen Fla. officers honored 30 years after shooting

The shooting spree forever changed security protocol in courthouses nationwide

By Desiree Stennett
Orlando Sentinel

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — By the time the gunfire inside the Orange County Courthouse was finally silenced on Jan. 10, 1984, Bailiff William "Arnie" Wilkerson was dead and Bailiff Harry Dalton and Corrections Officer Mark Parker were critically injured.

Parker's younger sister, Colleen, was only 16 at the time. But because of her upbringing  with an Orange County Sheriff's Office lieutenant for a father and social worker for a mother  she learned at a young age the risk law-enforcement officers face each day.

"I knew the bad stuff," Colleen Parker said Friday after a remembrance ceremony for her brother, Mark Parker, Dalton, and Wilkerson on the 30th anniversary of the shooting. "You don't want it to happen to your family but you had to know that it was a possibility. And I did."

Colleen Parker still remembers when her father's best friend brought her to meet her family at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Her brother, only 19 at the time, had a bullet lodged in his spine and although he was still alive, his family knew he was in bad shape.

"That was the scariest thing I had ever seen, pulling up to ORMC at the trauma unit," Colleen said as she described the scene crawling with police, deputies and media that she watched through the patrol-car window.

Mark Parker, who lived the longest, was confined to a wheelchair until his death in 2009. Wilkerson died at the scene and Dalton died in 1991 from complications related to serious brain injuries he suffered in the shooting.

They are among 43 officers whose names are engraved on a memorial in front of the Orange County Courthouse. All died from injuries they suffered in the line of duty.

The shooter, Thomas Provenzano, was found guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder. He was executed by lethal injection in June 2000.

His shooting spree forever changed security protocol in courthouses nationwide.

At the time, the old courthouse  now the Orange County Regional History Center on East Central Boulevard in downtown Orlando  only used the few available metal detectors on rare occasions and had a security force of less than 40 people.

Today every person who walks into the courthouse must empty their pockets and walk through a metal detector and they are met by a staff of 153 deputies patrolling the building.

"It's necessary," said Gary Dalton, who followed in his father's footsteps and now works for the Sheriff's Office as well. "It saves lives."

On Jan. 10, 1984, Provenzano was at the courthouse for a hearing for a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge he got five months prior. If convicted, he would not have faced more than a year in jail.

At his murder trial in 1984, prosecutors said Provenzano had experienced "a buildup and a crescendo of bad feelings" against police and the courts and he thought shooting the officers would "right the wrong" he felt was committed against him.

But when he didn't see the officers who had arrested him, prosecutors said, he opened fire anyway.

Officials on Friday said the yearly remembrance ceremonies of that shooting helps them to "keep the promise" to never forget fallen law enforcement officers.

"I'm appreciative," said Gloria Wilkerson, William Wilkerson's wife. "It's always fresh. You never, ever forget. It feels like yesterday to those of us who lost so much."

Copyright 2014 The Orlando Sentinel



McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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