(LONDON, Ohio) — Grace Leon shared a special gift Thursday with the loved ones of the four Ohio peace officers killed in the line of duty in 2010.
The gift of hope.
“I want the survivors to know that sometimes life doesn’t bring you what you want, but I can assure you that life brings you what you need,” said Leon, whose late husband, Cleveland police officer Wayne Leon, was shot while making a traffic stop nearly 11 years ago. “I hope peace fills your hearts and loving memories bring you comfort.”
Leon and others shared inspiring words and other forms of tribute at the annual Ohio Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremony on the grounds of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA), part of the Attorney General’s Office. There, after days of rain — and with the promise of more on the way — the sun shone brightly for the outdoor gathering of 145 family members and hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the state.
Their purpose was to remember and honor their loved ones and colleagues, the four Ohio officers who gave their lives in 2010:
- Trooper Andrew C. Baldridge of the Bucyrus post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, who was responding to a call for assistance when he lost his life in a car accident Feb. 4
- Sgt. James A. Kerstetter of the Elyria Police Department, who was shot while confronting a suspect March 15
- Officer Thomas F. Patton II of the Cleveland Heights Police Department, who collapsed while pursuing a felony assault suspect on foot March 13
- Chief Carl E. Worley of the Ross Township Police Department, who was investigating a string of burglaries when he suffered a fatal heart attack Jan. 26
Their names and that of a historical nominee, Marshal John Vapenik of Maple Heights, are now etched on the Ohio Fallen Officers Memorial Wall along with those of 732 others who have died in the line of duty since 1823. Vapenik was nominated after his department discovered he was killed Aug. 28, 1920, while patrolling the streets for whiskey runners.
“The stories we share at this memorial may come from the history books or from recent headlines, but Ohio’s peace officers — regardless of when they gave their oath — have always faced great risk and continue to face those risks today,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said.
“Every day, Ohio’s peace officers put themselves between us and our families and harm’s way,” he added. “The loss of these five is a sobering reminder of how real the risks are that they, and their fellow officers, willingly accept to serve and protect.”
Dozens of pipe and drum corps and honor guards also took part in the ceremony, as did the Grove City High School Chorale and representatives of the fallen officers’ departments. As the event came to a close, four helicopters from the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Columbus Division of Police approached from the northeast. As they flew overhead, one broke off to the northwest in the missing man formation.
Grace Leon, the families she addressed Thursday and the loved ones of all Ohio fallen officers live that reality every day.
“Each birthday, every graduation, first dance, and every special life’s moment is affected by the void created on June 25,” Leon said, referring to the day her husband died. “It still hurts after all these years, but serves a purpose. Pain is the evidence that Wayne still lives. As long as there are those who remember him, he will never die.”
Sgt. Kerstetter’s sister, Kelly Strickler, said Leon’s words were especially meaningful.
“You really relate to the things she said. That’s our life now, too.”