WALLA WALLA -- As more than 20,000 mourners converged on Tacoma last week to honor four slain Lakewood police officers, local law enforcement was there as well.Andy Porter can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8318.
Sixteen officers from the Walla Walla Police Department, Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office and Columbia County Sheriff's Office went to pay their respects at the Tuesday service.
What they found was an "absolutely breathtaking" demonstration by the local community, state and nation to the tragedy.
Seen from ground-level, the outpouring of support was "almost literally overwhelming," said Walla Walla Police Det. Chris Buttice.
"Everywhere you looked, there were police cars, fire engines, medic units and motor officers," he said.
At McChord Air Force Base, where the procession to the Tacoma Dome began, "there were literally thousands of police cars parked on the runways" with more arriving every minute.
As impressive as that was, what the officers saw during the 10-mile drive to the Tacoma Dome was even more memorable.
Despite freezing cold weather, residents lined the streets and stood on overpasses holding signs, waving flags and calling out to the passing cars and trucks, said Buttice and fellow officer Brent Barberich.
"For the entire distance people from all walks of life stood on the sidewalks saying, 'Thank you,' Thank you,'... And they didn't know any of us," Buttice said.
On another level, several of the Walla Walla officers had a personal connection with Lakewood Police Sgt. Mark Renninger, who was killed on Nov. 29 along with Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards.
Several years ago Renninger came to Walla Walla to help train local Emergency Service Unit members in hostage rescue tactics. Barberich recalled how he and Renninger had traded e-mails and phone calls to set up the visit "and from there it turned into a friendship."
Although he heard about the Lakewood shootings earlier on the day it happened, Barberich said he didn't find out Renninger was one of the victims until arriving for work that evening.
"Disbelief would be the best way to describe that," he said about his reaction. "A numbing feeling of disbelief."
The contingent that went to the memorial service consisted of 10 Walla Walla police officers, five Walla Walla Sheriff's deputies and one deputy from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
Because of a manpower shortage, the College Place Police Department could not send any of its members, said Chief Dennis Lepiane. However, the department did send condolences and memorial contributions to each of the families of the slain officers.
The officers journeyed to Tacoma the day before the service in a caravan of six cars. During the drive the group encountered other processions of cars all carrying law enforcement officers from across the nation.
Going to dinner that evening "it was pretty incredible ... there were officers from everywhere," Buttice recalled.
"It was really amazing to see that many officers in one place," Barberich added. "A lot of instant friendships were formed that night."
The officers said the memorial service was a powerful, somber affair.
"It reminds you of the brotherhood that we are in when the call goes out that four officers are down and you have 20,000-plus respond as backup," Walla Walla Police officer Kevin Huxoll said in an e-mail. "It's tragic to have this happen, but a nice reminder to know that there are many more of us out there."