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Published: Wednesday, 12/9/2009

20,000 pay tribute to slain law officers

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

TACOMA, Wash. - About 20,000 mourners, mostly members of law enforcement from Washington state and across the country, honored four slain officers who were remembered yesterday as heroes and loving family members.

A procession of 2,000 cars followed the flag-draped caskets of Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, and Greg Richards to the Tacoma Dome, where the memorial service was held. Several candlelight vigils have been held for the officers since the shooting on Nov. 29, but yesterday's memorial service and procession are believed to be the largest in state history.

"I would have gone through any door with Mark and I trusted him with any mission," said Assistant Chief Mike Villa, of the Tukwila Police Department, where Sergeant Renninger once worked. "I will not forget Mark, the good that he did, or the life that he led."

The Lakewood officers were killed by a lone gunman Nov. 29 before the start of their shift. Authorities say Maurice Clemmons singled them out and spared employees and other customers at the coffee shop in Parkland, a Tacoma suburb about 35 miles south of Seattle.

Clemmons was shot to death last week by a Seattle police officer after a two-day manhunt. Prosecutors said he received help from family and friends, and seven people have been arrested.

"Our dad was a hero to many even long before he became a policeman," said Officer Richard's teenage son, Austin. "The way he lived his life spoke volumes."

Lori Lightfoot and Sheila Chandler, both police detectives from Fresno, Calif., were among officers who traveled from as far away as New York, Chicago, and Canada for the service. They said the deaths of the four Lakewood officers brought back memories of four Oakland police officers killed during a traffic stop and a shootout in March.

"It's just disbelief," Detective Lightfoot said. "It's unbelievable that it could happen again."

Gov. Chris Gregoire said the officers' sacrifice would not be forgotten, and that the state would honor their memory by continuing to support law enforcement.

"We will remember them today. We will remember them always. We owe the children of these officers, all nine of them, a present and a future that is safe and secure."

Cpl. Jack Hundial, of Surrey, British Columbia, one of 1,000 Royal Canadian Mounted Police in attendance, said, "It could have been any of us."

The memorial was preceded by a procession of about 2,000 law enforcement vehicles. It crawled along a 10.3-mile route from McChord Air Force Base to the Tacoma Dome.

The procession, which took three-and-a-half hours, was so sprawling that the tail end was still at the base at 1:30 p.m., a half-hour after the memorial was scheduled to begin. The service began more than an hour later than planned.

The service included a 25-minute slide show of the officers. It ended with a bell rung 21 times and a presentation of the flags from the officers' caskets to the families of the fallen.

Officers Owens and Richards will be buried during private funerals today. Sergeant Renninger will be flown back to his home state of Pennsylvania today.



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