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Lee law enforcement remembers those who gave all

By Staff | May 20, 2016

There are 17 of them, 15 humans and two dogs, who, since 1930 have answered the call of duty and didn’t come home.

It might not seem like many, but it is 17 too many. And every year Lee County, like cities, states and the nation, remembers those police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.

Locally, hundreds of municipal police officers, deputies from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and members of the Florida State Highway Patrol came together Wednesday to remember the fallen at the Lee County Fallen Officer Memorial Ceremony at Centennial Park in Fort Myers.

Todd Everly, director of the Southwest Florida Public Service Academy, said by enactment of Congress there’s a Police Memorial Week, where those who died are honored.

“Anyone who was killed in the line of duty, no matter what agency they worked, their name was called and family members present,” Everly said. “It’s important to recognize the people who were defending our communities and protecting us. Like the military, we want to remember those who protect us every day.”

The somber event featured remembrance, prayer and song. Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson read a proclamation, Lt. David M. Grossi (retired), former New York City Police Officer, Street Survival Seminar, was guest speaker, and the honor guards throughout Lee County laid the wreath to commemorate the fallen’s lives.

It is one of the few days where flags must be flown at half-mast, Grossi said, adding to the significance of this day during a time when more police officers nationwide are being gunned down than ever before.

“We’ve lost more officers this year in 2016 than in previous years. Police murders are up 70 percent, and, even though line-of-duty deaths are down from traffic accidents, it’s a dangerous time.” Grossi said. “This is more than a profession, it’s a calling. They knew they had that target on their backs.”

Staff Sgt. Scott Griffith called out the names of the fallen, with officers from all branches of law enforcement taking a rose off the table, walking to the front, and putting the flower on the corresponding name.

Adanita Ross sang a song in tribute to the officers, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Firing Party gave a three-volley salute, and TAPS was played before the Guns & Hoses Band played Amazing Grace and Going Home as a LCSO helicopter flew over.

Many of Lee County’s political leaders were present, including State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who was moved by the event.

“It was great to see the families of those we’ve lost. We know the folks here today in uniform, they put everyone else’s lives before their own, and we’re honored to be here to honor them,” Benacquisto said.

“There’s a reason why we say never forget, because every year it’s touching when you can remember those who lost their lives in the line of duty,” County Commissioner Brian Hamman said. “These guys are our heroes. They’re out in the middle of the night while we’re sleeping, keeping us safe.”

Lee County has been lucky in recent years. The last law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty was Fort Myers Police K-9 Rosco in October 2010, which was the last of nine law enforcement personnel killed during a bloody first decade of the new millennium.

Cape Coral has not seen any officers killed in the line of duty. The closest they have come was when Officer Dave Wagoner was shot in 2011, and Danny Grant, who was critically injured in a car crash.

That didn’t make the service any less important to the Cape Coral officers who came to remember.

“The service was wonderful. It was a great memorial to the officers who have given the ultimate sacrifice,” said Capt. Lisa Barnes, of the Cape Coral Police Dept. “The most important thing they said was they’re gone, but never forgotten. It’s very important every year, especially for the families and law enforcement, to come together and remember.”