Police, firefighters killed in past year remembered

Families gather to honor fallen heroes at memorial

May 05, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Joan Schwenz and Michael Cowdery never doubted that their sons would be buried among heroes.

Schwenz and Cowdery were among hundreds who gathered at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium yesterday at the 16th annual Fallen Heroes Day ceremony, where they honored 11 police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty in the past year

Schwenz's stepson, Queen Anne's County Sheriff's Deputy Jason C. Schwenz, was fatally shot Feb. 13 when he responded to a noise complaint at a Centreville trailer park.

Cowdery's son, Baltimore police Officer Michael J. Cowdery Jr., was fatally shot March 12 when he was ambushed while patrolling East Baltimore.

Both men are buried at the cemetery's Fallen Heroes Memorial, where the ceremony took place with all the pomp of a presidential funeral. Some of the others honored are buried elsewhere.

"Because it is a memorial, we felt strongly he be buried here," said Joan Schwenz, who was accompanied by her other children. "He was dedicated to his profession, and he belongs in a hero's memorial."

Officer Cowdery's father drove from Philadelphia with his daughter and some friends to participate in the solemn memorial service. He said he was comforted by it.

"I thought it was an absolutely beautiful, moving tribute," Michael Cowdery said. "I've never seen anything like that before."

The nine Maryland police officers and two firefighters who died last year were the most since 1987, when there also were 11 deaths.

"This has been an incredibly difficult year for police and firefighters across the state," said John Armiger Jr., president of Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, who organized the first Fallen Heroes Day in 1986.

The Rev. Frank Reid, pastor of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, gave a fiery keynote address and noted the growing violence against police officers.

"We've come here today to put evil on notice," Reid said.

Several political dignitaries, including Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, also spoke.

The 90-minute ceremony began with a procession by dozens of police color guard and officers on motorcycle and horseback. It ended with a police helicopter flyover.

In 1976, 330 plots were set aside at the cemetery for police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty.

Besides Cowdery and Schwenz, other fallen officers recognized yesterday were: Worcester County Sheriff's Deputy Brian K. Heller, Baltimore police Officers John D. Platt and Kevin J. McCarthy, Baltimore County Officer John D. Stem Sr., Prince George's County Officer Kilonzo M. Masembwa, state police Cpl. Edward M. Toatley and Centreville police Officer Michael S. Nickerson.

Firefighters Robert W. Humphrey of the Maryland Line Volunteer Fire Protection Association and Gilmore "Butch" Stitley of Citizens Truck Co. No. 4 in Frederick County also were honored.

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