Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fallen Heroes




I've been wanting to post to this blog about one of the most trying weeks I've ever experienced in my life, but before I could, I had to wait until this evening. On Saturday night, August 28, I was sitting in my living room when I heard a shot ring out.

It's not all that unusual to hear shots here in town, especially around this time of year. Frequently Brown Bears wander in to town in search of food and the police are called to chase them off with rubber bullets. Shortly after the first shot, I heard two other shots. I heard a truck come charging up the road and screech to halt out front of my neighbors house. Haley Tokuoka flew out of the truck and ran into her parents house, screaming "Oh God! Oh God!" A few minutes later my daughter called to let us know that Haley's husband,Matt, and another police officer, Sgt. Tony Wallace had been shot. At the time it wasn't known if the shooter was roaming around the town freely or if he had gone in to his house. Like many uncommonly stressful situations, there was a lot of confusion and rumor flying around. We shut off our lights and I armed myself and waited in the dark with the windows open trying to hear what was going on outside. Jen called periodically with updates. We discovered that John Marvin Jr. had ambushed Sgt. Wallace just after he had made a routine traffic stop in front of Marvin's home. Matt had just returned from a fishing excursion with his family and had his wife and two children in the truck and had stopped to talk with Tony when Marvin opened fire on Tony. Matt got out of the car, yelled for Haley to take the kids and go and proceeded to grab Tony and pull him behind cover. Matt was unarmed and not wearing any manner of protective vest when Marvin opened fire on him as well. Both officers were taken to the clinic. We heard shortly after 1:00 Am that Matt had succumbed to his wounds. We found out later that morning that Tony also passed away. Words aren't sufficient to describe the feeling of numbness that one feels at such a moment. Hoonah is a small town of about 800 or so people. In one fell swoop we were robbed of half our police force, a wife was left a widow and five children were left fatherless. Two sets of parents had their sons stolen from them and the feeling of safety that we've lived with is gone forever. On Sunday morning the town was swarming with over forty police officers and SWAT team members as well as several EMTs from out of town. Front Street, where Marvin was barricaded in his home was closed down, and just getting to my home, which was several blocks away, required me going several blocks out of my way to avoid any chance of stray gunfire. The coast guard stationed a cutter out in the bay in front of town and escorted boats in and out of the harbor because Front Street was parallel to the bay. It wasn't until Monday morning that the stand off was over. The police lobbed teargas into Marvins home and he came out and surrendered. It's my understanding that he'd had previous run-ins with these two officers and I think he was just waiting for the opportunity to extract his revenge, which he did in the most cowardly way possible, with no thought for the families who would be impacted by this terrible act.

Today we had a memorial service for these two fine young men, and what a service it was. The normal state ferry which would usually service Hoonah was too small for all the people who wanted to attend, so they put on a much larger ferry, able to accomodate 500 people as I understand. There was also an additional catamaran or two for the spill over. The new gymnasium was set up with chairs as well as the bleachers on both sides, and the old gym was set up as well in anticipation for the unprecedented crowd. Amongst the guests to attend were Governor Shawn Parnell, U S Senator Lisa Murkowski, various state lawmakers, several judges, and more uniformed police officers than I have ever seen in my life. We had officers attend from Chicago, Minnesota and Washington state, and possibly elesewhere that I'm not aware of. There was a detatchment of Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their red uniforms, as well as dozens of officers from all over this vast state. We also had members of the Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy here. For the first time ever the Honor Flag, which flew over ground zero after 9/11 came to Alaska, and was flown at half mast at the school today. It was almost overwhelming, but I was so pleased to see the way these officers and their families as well as the entire community were honored. The out pouring of support has been gratifying.

During the memorial we discovered that Tony was a tremendous wrestler and was inducted into the wrestling hall of fame at the college he attended in Rochester New York. If I remember correctly, I believe he was the only legally deaf man to graduate from a police academy. He was a favorite of the school kids here and went out of his way to befriend them.

Matthew was a former marine who served honorably. Various people came forth with testimony about his integrity and love for his family. In the book of John, Jesus said, " Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friend." Matthew selflessly sacrificed his life in an attempt to save the life of Tony.

At the end of the ceremony three bagpipes and a drum played Amazing Grace and the people were dismissed by several members of the Alaska State Troopers, row by row. It was a beautiful service and one that I'll never forget, but hope to never experience again.

We are all left with questions. What happened doesn't make sense. Many of us are angry. It shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. There's no do-overs, no matter how many of us wish we could just go back and change things. We're left with a profound sense of loss and the sadness that the whole town feels is immeasurable. Regardless of our differences, when something of this magnitude happens, we all feel the pain. I hope that I can bring to rememberance the words that our pastor, Chris Budke spoke after the tragedy. For the immediate time being there is a tremendous outpouring of support, but it will be in the weeks and months ahead when it is behind us and not so fresh in our memory that the families will feel the full brunt of their loss. It's then that they will need us the most. God help me to be sensitive to their need and willing to help wherever I can.

6 comments:

  1. Hey Tom, thank you so much for writing this blog. We heard about the shootings not long after they happened and have been keeping those families and the people of Hoonah in our prayers.

    Take care and God bless!
    Brett & Brittany Sall - Minneapolis, MN

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  2. Great post dad, I figured you would write something on this after the service. Thank you for posting the pictures and the post, especially since I could not be there for it. You and mom, Haley's family and Tony's family as well as all of Hoonah is in my prayers. Love you.

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  3. Excellent post dad! You definately spoke from your heart. It was a day I will never forget and also hope to never again have to encounter. It was an amazing ceremony and I know that the town of Hoonah will come together for Haley and her family as well as Tony's family. We will never forget their sacrifice. Thanks for posting this blog. Love you, Liz

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  4. Thanks Tom for sharing what happened. I ache for the community how hard this must be. I am especially praying for the families of the police officers and the Marvin family. Love and blessings to you and your growing family.

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  5. Well written dad. Love you!

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  6. It's been some time since I've been on your blog, obviously, as I'm just seeing this post, but you paid a tremendous tribut to two wonderful men...I know their families would feel honored..love you much.AJ

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