We had Memorial Day as a guideline this week and all was said that could be said was said right away. Although Memorial Day was initiated to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the American Civil War, it soon became a tribute to all who had fallen in U.S. wars, then extended to all who had died. Many communities and families make great efforts to decorate graves of family members and of those dear to them. In the past few years Memorial Day has also become a second “Veteran’s Day” in the U.S., (“Remembrance Day”), honoring all military personnel. People now recognize that returning Viet Nam veterans were treated badly or not treated at all,( for their physical and emotional war wounds, as no one goes through war and comes out unscathed), and so ,I believe, they are making it up to the recent war veterans and the call to “Support the Troops” is on many people’s minds. (I wish that they could always make the distinction between ‘supporting the troops’ and ‘supporting war’.)
I want to bend the idea just a bit and presume to honor a fallen local defender. Perhaps you have heard on national news that a local policeman here was set up, ambushed and murdered. The man was Bardstown City Police Officer Jason Ellis.
I grew up around policemen; I even lived nearly across the street from a police department. There was a wooded lot in between us for a while and until a recreation center was built, I could see the door and the POLICE sign through the trees. Even before that, I had a desk sergeant next door and before that I had a patrolman upstairs and a detective across the hall in our apartment building; these were my earliest neighbors as a child. Their position has my utmost respect and I always give them my deference and the benefit of the doubt, even though I know the police are human.
The officers I have known ranged from those who were wife-beaters ,and cat-shooters to those who would give up their lunch hours to speak with worried mothers of children headed for trouble and officers who reasoned with troubled veterans and talked them into going to get help, instead of easily arresting them for disturbing the peace. Officer Ellis was one who joked with those whom he pulled over and showed caring for all the community.
I may be taking too much upon myself; maybe it isn’t my place. After all, I hardly knew the man. But what contact I did have with him and what I have heard since compels me to let other people know about him.
Jason Ellis took a great deal of time to speak with the Cub Scouts when I was at the police station with them, even though he was not our official guide. As he answered my many questions and those of the boys, I was struck by his intelligence and humor.He was the local K-9 officer and as very attached to his partner, who will now be retired. The dog will be given to Mrs. Ellis and their sons, since, as our mayor stated, “the boys grew up with him and this is a connection to their father that they can keep.” Fido is an expensively trained tracking animal; he is now free to be a full-time pet.
Cincinnati native Jason Ellis met his future wife on a St. Valentine’s Day when they were in college and she says it was truly love at first sight. They married and he got a chance to do something he always wanted, play professional baseball. He was doing well on the Cincinnati Reds’ farm team when it was found that the second child of theirs that his wife was carrying would be a ‘special-needs’ child. He did the right thing; he returned home. His wife said, “You gave up your dream”; he replied, “I have many dreams.” Apparently, caring for the community as the best police officer he could be was one of them.
Officer Ellis was active in his church and with his police brethren both socially and with fraternal organizations. He also put his love of baseball together with his sense of community and used his talent to coach Little League. He was well-loved and, in his wife’s words, liked being”goofy”. For instance, when the city employees have their annual Christmas party, everyone dresses formally.For the last two years, he and another officer have worn silly Christmas sweaters.He found and made fun.
We have no idea what happened, who could have had such a grudge as to plan to murder this man. Police officers can easily make enemies and they deal with some of the worst society has to offer, but no one can understand that it would happen to this particular policeman; it seems so unlikely. Someone knew when he would be getting off of work, someone knew his route home. Someone placed what the police are only telling us is ‘debris’ in the off-ramp from the highway he always used to go home. It’s on a lonely stretch of highway especially at 3 AM and although a few people came by and drove around whatever was placed in the road, the perpetrator(s) knew that Officer Ellis would never let a safety hazard remain there to possibly cause an accident. When he got out to move it, someone, who was obviously lying in wait, shot him numerous times with a 12-gauge shotgun. He was alone, his service SUV was being painted and the squad car he was driving was too small to carry the dog. A motorist passing by saw him lying in the road and used the police radio to call for help, but the shooter had made sure that Officer Ellis had been killed.
Yesterday, police from four states came to paid homage to Officer Ellis. There were such vast numbers of the community who wanted to show support at the main visitation that the funeral home could not accommodate them. He was moved to a large church nearby. For two days the Louisville Metro police drove down to act as hosts, ushers, control and other functions so that his fellow city and county officers could be among the mourners and also be free to continue to work on finding his killer. Some of his ‘brothers-in-blue’ chose to skip the funeral and honor him by continuing to follow-up on leads into the investigation into his murder. Fire departments and EMT units from several cities around the state came to cover the city and county so that local the firefighters could attend the funeral of their comrade-in-service.
The city government and many local businesses,(including McDonald’s), closed while their workers, along with schoolchildren and other citizens, stood among the more than 2,200 flags that lined the 22-mile funeral procession. Cars, trucks, squad cars. police motorcycles and emergency vehicles from four states stretched almost as long as the trip; about the time the hearse approached the out-of-town cemetary, the last vehicles were leaving the church in the city where the services had been held. Schools delayed their closing on that,, their last day, to allow the procession to go by unhampered.(Pictured here is a very small portion of the route; I wish I had thought to take shots in the more picturesque old part of town).
Video of the funeral shows a drum and bugle corp leading the way as Officer Ellis’ coffin was carried from the hearse to the gravesite in a horse-drawn wagon, led by a riderless horse and the Equine corp of another district. His partner,Fido, escorted by another officer, walked directly ahead of the car carrying Officer Ellis’ family.K-9 officers and their human officer partners stood at attention as a 21 gun salute was fired and police helicopters from other parts of the state flew overhead. This was the first death of an active-duty officer in the Bardstown City Police Department’s 150 year history.
The car that Officer Ellis was driving is draped and in front of the police station. It is covered in flowers, teddy bears, cards…and baseballs. There is a fund that is growing by contributions for his family and another for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his killer. Outpouring from the community, with the help of several $10,000.00 contributions from various city departments and a $50K donation from a Louisville businessman, had placed the reward funds to over $100,000.00 by the time the funeral began.
I did not want to add to the crush of those who knew Officer Ellis better or had professional connection to him, so I did not attend the visitations or funeral, but my son the firefighter did. I sent condolences to his wife and family by way of the funeral home, and I watched the police chief, mayor and Mrs. Ellis being interviewed. She said that she is up and going for their sons and that it has been possible only through the prayers of others. She also added that her mother-in-law was wonderful and had come immediately from Cincinnati and was staying with them. Pamela Sue Dearwester stood quietly behind her daughter-in-law as Amy Ellis tried to answer questions and accepted the many condolences; it must have been hard on her. Although I do not know Mrs. Dearwester, my heart goes out to her. She has lost her son and she seems to be staying strong for his wife and her grandsons. I hope I get to speak to her if only through a note. I had a son go to war and my other son is often in harm’s way firefighting, but I still have them. I know what it is like to have to stand back and let their wives be in the spotlight, but for all her peaceful outward demeanor, there must be a shattered mother’s heart inside. She also has my prayers and condolences.
The day of his funeral was the seventh anniversary of his joining the police force.He was 33.
Thank you for indulging me. Officer Jason Ellis, rest in peace.