EIGHTEEN YEARS LATER
(The following article first appeared as Matt TMs Memo on October 30, 2006)
October 30th is burned in my mind as the day Officer Wallie Howard died in the line of duty. It was shortly after 2:00 in the afternoon. The sun was shining on an unusually warm fall day. Howard was working with the Central New York Drug Task Force. He was making an undercover cocaine buy. The drug dealers instead tried to take his money. Gunshots rang out in the parking lot of Mario TMs Big M on South Salina Street. Investigator Howard fired his gun and got one of the drug dealers. But, 16 year old Bam Bam Lawrence shot Officer Howard in the back of the head.
Ten years later Howard TMs mother Delores described the entry of the fatal wound by reaching around the back of her neck and touching the base of her skull. She will never forget that moment. For the officers on duty that day that moment is etched in their soul.
Dozens of them gathered this morning in Forman Park to remember Officer Howard. Among those in the crowd was former Chief Leigh Hunt. I waved hello to him from across the park. He was the distinguished leader of the SPD on that October 30th, 1990. During that time of community grief he seemed the ideal leader.
That death struck hard. Chief Hunt seemed to not only guide the department, but also the city with his demeanor. His combination of compassion and composure walked everyone through the tragic moments of that Tuesday, the days that followed and finally the Saturday morning funeral.
Wearing his dress blues, the brass stars glistened in the morning sun. His graying hair brought instant credibility as it peaked out from beneath the police cap. At Assumption Church he eulogized the fallen officer. He shared a story of Wallie Howard Junior TMs eight year old son Wallie the III telling the chief in private that he wanted to follow in his father TMs footsteps. One day little Wallie wanted to be a police officer too.
Sixteen years later six more men have occupied the Chief TMs office. There was Frank Sardino, Tim Cowin, Tim Foody, John Falge, Steven Thompson, Dennis Duval and now Chief Gary Miguel. They TMve all taken their turn speaking on the anniversary of Officer Howard TMs death. This morning Chief Miguel donned the uniform and passionately spoke of the dedication of his officers. Sixteen years ago the Chief was a lieutenant, Wallie Howard was one of his officers.
The Chief shared with those of us gathered that he relayed the story of Wallie Howard to all of the recruits at the police academy. He talks about Officer Howard giving his life to rid our community of the scourge of cocaine.
(NOTE on 10/30/2008: I talked tonight with Mrs. Delores Howard, Wallie TMs mother. She can TMt believe 18 years have passed since her son was shot and killed in the line of duty. She finds comfort in the annual ceremony, the reunion of officers her worked side by side with her son. She feels he was there with all of them today. There was a distinct chill in the overcast sky as the solemn remembrance began. As it concluded the sun broke through sharing its warmth. Mrs. Howard is certain that was her son Wallie TMs hand embracing those he left behind. )
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