In our core classes, “The Winning Mind” and “The Winning Mind for Women,” we talk about honoring our fallen by telling their stories and remembering how they sacrificed. This is what warriors do, and have always done. When the battle is over, we lament, we mourn, we cry out to God, we gather around and tell the stories of our dead. These rituals are as important to us as the black mourning bands, the flag folding, the wailing bagpipes. We honor them, we bury them and then we work and we train “in their name.” We remember.
As I write this, nine female police officers have died in the line of duty in the first seven months of this year. Women are 11% of our current fallen officers. Their average age was 39, their average tour of duty was 14 years. But there is so much more to tell, and each one of these women has a story.
Park Ranger Margaret Anderson was shot and killed on New Years Day by an emotionally disturbed military veteran who had been previously discharged for civilian misconduct. An 11 year veteran of the National Park Service, Margaret patrolled the beautifulMount RainierNational Park, she had always enjoyed the outdoors. She was 34 years old with 11 years on the job.
That morning, Ranger Anderson set up a roadblock to intercept a suspect who had failed to stop at a snow-chain checkpoint staffed by another ranger. Unbeknownst to any of the rangers, the suspect was wanted in connection with a New Year’s Eve shooting near Renton, Washington, where four people had been were wounded, two of them critically.
When the suspect reached Ranger Anderson's roadblock, he made a U-turn, exited his vehicle, and opened fire. Margaret was shot before she was able to exit her patrol car. She was able to maintain cover and radio for help as the suspect fled on foot. Responding units attempting to reach Ranger Anderson were held at bay for approximately 90 minutes as the suspect continued to fire on them. They were finally able to rescue her when the suspect fled the area. His vehicle was recovered with additional weapons and body armor inside and his body was found the following day about six miles from the initial shooting scene.
Margaret did not survive her massive wounds. She was the married mother of two young children and her mother-in-law described her as an “excellent mother.”
Twenty days later, Corporal Barbara Ester, a 12 year veteran of the Arkansas Department of Corrections was stabbed to death by an inmate at the East Arkansas Regional Unit in Brickeys, Arkansas. She had observed the inmate in possession of a contraband pair of sneakers and entered the open barracks to confiscate them. As she approached the inmate he suddenly stabbed her twice in the stomach with a shank thought to be made out of a piece of air conditioning vent and an ace bandage. The inmate was already serving a life sentence for murder. Corporal Ester was flown to a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she succumbed to her wounds.
Barbara Ester was 47 years old. She had been married to a co-worker for six years who was on duty at the time but not working the same area. Her nickname was “Mama Esther” because of her nurturing ways, both with young inmates and with the elderly of her church. She was described as a woman of incredible faith.
Only four days later Senior Police Officer Gail Thomas of theAtlanta,GA Police Department was struck and killed by a 22 year old woman who was suspected of drunk driving. Officer Thomas had responded to assist with a traffic incident on the exit ramp from southbound I-75 to northbound I-85. She had just exited her vehicle when she was struck. The drunk driver was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide, DUI, and reckless driving.
Gail had started her police career as a dispatcher 20 years ago but was then encouraged to enter the police academy to become an officer. She had been an officer for 15 years at the time of her death.