Fallen Fresno CHP officers recalled at annual ceremony (video)

The Fresno BeeMay 6, 2014 

After the helicopter fly-over, procession of speakers and 21-gun salute, Maxima Palacios, 77, quietly approached a memorial wall in downtown Fresno on Tuesday and pressed her hands against her son's name, engraved in stone.

Since the wall was built in 1998 -- a tribute to Fresno County peace officers killed in the line of duty -- Palacios has attended all but two of the annual memorial ceremonies in Courthouse Park to honor fallen law enforcement statewide.

"He was a good son," she said, thinking of Huron police officer John Palacios, killed in June of 1976. Palacios was helping the CHP at a major traffic collision when he was struck and killed by a drunken driver, just seven days after he joined the Huron Police Department.

"I feel sadness mixed with pride, but it also hurts," she said of Tuesday's ceremony.

The grief was more fresh for others who recalled Fresno area California Highway Patrol officers Juan Jaime Gonzalez and Brian Mitchio Law, who died in a Feb. 17 crash responding to an accident on Highway 99 in Kingsburg.

Their names will be added to the Fresno County memorial wall -- bringing the stone list to 59.

"I believe law enforcement is taken for granted," said CHP Capt. Dave Paris, Fresno area commander. "Military personnel are our heroes abroad. But our heroes at home are peace officers."

Across the United States, a peace officer dies in the line of duty every 58 hours, said Ron Cottingham, a retired past president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

A peace officers' memorial built in Washington, D.C., in 1991 now displays 20,267 names -- another 286 to be added this year, Cottingham said.

A growing number of peace officers killed in Fresno County meant additional granite had to added in 2007 to make way for more names.

"Hopefully we never have to do that again," added Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.

"It's very important for us to have this day, so we can keep our promise to them (family of those killed) to never forget," Mims said after the ceremony.

Hundreds of uniformed law enforcement officers stood at attention during Tuesday's ceremony, which also featured several choir songs and solo performances. After a reading of eight names -- those killed in the line of duty across California since last year -- a flock of white doves was released into the air.

Chaplain Rodney Lowery with the Fresno Police Department shared a prayer.

"Father, we ask you to bring comfort in the midst of deep hurt ... thank you for instilling the commitment to selflessly serve and protect, fully knowing the weight and toll of the badge," Lowery said. "And yet these officers were willing to assume all risks that ... (have) largely gone unnoticed by those who they serve."

Cottingham, with the Peace Officers Research Association, said each person listed on the Fresno County memorial wall is deserving of their own monument.

"In recalling the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: The words spoken today may not be long remembered, but I implore you to remember why you are here today -- to honor our fallen heroes." Cottingham said tearfully. "Keep those memories with you and honor those memories every day."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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