ST. PETERSBURG — As the fading orange sunlight blanketed Demens Landing from the west and a heavy breeze swept over the choppy waters of Tampa Bay to the east, a crowd of hundreds gathered Saturday close to a concrete walkway near the shore. They could already see the names on the aluminum panel that towered over the veiled granite monument.
James A. Mitchell, Edward George, Wayne Barry ...
Amanda Crawford had been to plenty of services like this. Ever since her father, St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford, was gunned down in 2011, she has attended events to honor fallen officers in Washington, D.C., Tallahassee and elsewhere.
Each one is difficult, she says, like reliving her father's funeral. But she still goes, she says, because it's important to remember.
On Saturday, community leaders, police officers and citizens spoke about Crawford and 14 other St. Petersburg police officers, vowing never to forget their names or the sacrifice they made. A quartet of helicopters flew over the crowd as a veil was lifted from the 7-foot-tall slab of black granite bearing the silhouette of an officer — the first official memorial honoring St. Petersburg's fallen officers.
"It means a lot to me," Crawford said. "It shows that they're not forgotten, that you're not the only one who remembers them."
Eugene Minor, Frank Pike, James Thornton …
Though neighboring agencies, including the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the Tampa Police Department, have their own monuments to honor officers killed in the line of duty, St. Petersburg lacked an official memorial spot until now.
In 2003, a group of civic leaders came together to form what would become the Heroes of the St. Pete Police, an organization whose stated goals included funding the creation of a permanent memorial to honor the city's fallen officers.
It took nine years. In 2011, when the department lost three officers in the line of duty in less than a month, the goal of completing the memorial became more urgent.
"While this monument is beautiful, it is also unsettling," said state Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, a member of the group's board of directors. "Because there is room for more names."
William Newberry, James Goodson, Eugene Bessette …
Also inscribed in the stone were the words of a memorial poem by retired Los Angeles police Sgt. George Hahn.
Lorraine Yaslowitz knew the memorial was in the works for more than a year. She, too, has attended many memorials honoring fallen officers in the nearly two years since her husband, Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, was killed. Finally seeing the monument bearing her husband's name come to fruition is a fitting tribute for him and all officers, she said.
"It's solemn, but it is also quite an honor," Yaslowitz said. "They go out there every day to keep the community safe. And they always know it's a possibility that they might pay that sacrifice."
James Krupp, Charles Eustes, Herbert Sullivan …
A bagpiper played Amazing Grace and the St. Petersburg police honor guard preceded a parade of speakers, which included Mayor Bill Foster and City Council members, who thanked those who helped fund the monument's construction.
The crowd fell silent as police Chief Chuck Harmon read the names of the fallen, along with the dates that each met their "end of watch."
Tom Baitinger, Jeffrey Yaslowitz, David Crawford.
Tears flowed. As the chief concluded the reading, the crowd jumped at the sound of a shotgun salute. A bagpiper played taps.
"Everybody tells you it gets easier," Crawford said. "But it doesn't. You just get stronger."
Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.