Officers from across the state met Saturday to dedicate the memorial at the Fallen Peace Officer Trailhead.
The 14-mile trail north of Moab between Hwy 191 and Arches National Park honors Utah officers from various agencies who have been killed or injured in the line of duty.
On Saturday, 14 officers who were killed in the line of duty were honored, one for each mile of the trail.
Rick Mayo, Utah Fallen Officer Association president, referred to the falling rain in his comments.
“I thought these would be teardrops falling for these men,” Mayo said. He paused then said, “But I know these men. This is a practical joke. They are pouring buckets.”
As he read the names of the 14 fallen officers honored this year, he paused several times to control his emotion.
“I didn’t think it’d be this hard,” he said. Some of the officers were his personal friends.
This year, the Utah Fallen Officer Association honored Aaron Beesley who passed in 2012; Brian Harris who passed in 2010; Charles Gilbert Porter who passed in 1970; Franco Aguilar who passed in 2010; George E. Van Wagenen who passed in 1931; Jared Francom who passed in 2012; John Cottam who passed in 1936; Joshua Yazzie who passed in 2010; Josie Greathouse Fox who passed in 2010; Kevin Orr who passed in 2006; Lloyd Larsen who passed in 1961; Owen Farley who passed in 1951; Stephen Anderson who passed in 2007; and William Strong who passed in 1899.
Brody Young wasn’t expecting to receive a purple heart on Saturday during the dedication of the memorial at the Fallen Peace Officer Trailhead.
The Utah state park ranger known in Moab as Ranger Brody, checked on a man sleeping in a car at the Poison Spider Trailhead on State Route 313 on Nov. 19, 2010. When Young walked back to his vehicle to run the car’s plates, the man fired a gun on him. Young returned fire, but was shot nine times.
The Fallen Peace Officer Trail was originally intended to be named after Young, but he felt it should honor all Utah officers who had been killed or injured while in the line of duty.
“I didn’t know they were doing this,” Young said when he was presented the purple heart.
Young referred to a training he had attended the week earlier where he had climbed to the top of a pine tree to wait for other officers to track him.
“I was grateful to be able to climb a tree. The day I woke up in the hospital, I knew I had to get back,” he said. “I’m grateful to walk and talk and breathe.”
He asked the audience to honor each officer “by living each day as though it is our last.”
Robert Kirby, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, paid his respects at the dedication.
Kirby, a former police officer, made the leap from law enforcement to journalism in 1989.
“I wonder if I’m speaking to the next person to be on our memorial,” Kirby said. “Be careful. We are living in desperate times.”
He spoke to the families of fallen officers.
“We owe you a debt of gratitude that can’t be seen,” he said.
And he spoke to the officers that have been forgotten.
“We are still looking for you,” Kirby said.
Kirby thought he closed the chapter on law enforcement as he began his new career in journalism, but in 1992 he found the story of William Strong, a Provo police officer who was murdered by a transient in 1899.
Officer William Strong was one of the fourteen officers honored at the dedication on Saturday.
“The more I dug the more it became apparent to me that Utah does a poor job remembering its fallen officers,” Kirby said in an earlier interview. “We pay these guys next to nothing for putting their lives on the line; then we kill them again by forgetting about them.”
That set him on the path to become a historian and update the list of officers who had been killed in the line of duty. Through his research he was able to double the known number of officers that had been killed in the line of duty and wrote the book “End of Watch” to document the deaths of Utah officers between 1858 and 2004.
In 2005 the state capitol in Salt Lake City was having renovations done. A small memorial in the rotunda honoring fallen officers was to be removed. A piece of ground on the west side of the capitol was given to the Utah Police Officer Association to build a memorial.
The Utah Peace Officers Association was able to raise $1 million in three years and was able to dedicate a memorial in 2008. The Utah Police Officer Association hosts an annual ride between Lindon and Salt Lake to pay for the maintenance of the memorial. The association now plans to host an annual ride on the Fallen Peace Officer Trail, which will benefit both the memorial at the state capitol and at the Moab trailhead.