‘Our hearts break’

7:08 p.m Monday, May 15, 2017 Local
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: Law enforcement officers attend the 36th annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol on May 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. The service is part of National Police Week and honors police officers across the country, and the families of those who died in the line of duty. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

When the first bus pulled up to the Capitol Monday to drop off the families of police killed in the line of duty, it was somber. When the 27th pulled up, it was something worse than heartbreaking.

Off piled young mothers pushing strollers, septuagenarians with canes, two little boys in matching green pants, one clutching his mother’s hand.

They were the survivors of the 143 police officers killed in the line of duty in 2016, and they’d come to Washington to see their loved ones’ names added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial. Two-hundred and fifty one who had died prior to last year were also added to the wall this week.

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Kirkersville Police Chief Steven Eric DiSario — slain just last week and mentioned by President Donald Trump during his remarks Monday — will have his name added in tribute next year.

Bus 17 held the family of Officer Steve Smith, a Columbus Division of Police SWAT team officer who died from injuries sustained in a standoff on April 12, 2016. Exiting the bus were his wife, Lisa Smith, along with her daughter, Brittany; son, Jesse; and Jesse’s wife, who is expecting the couple’s first child in June. Also with them was Steve sister, Michelle Shapiro, who’d traveled from Wasilla, Alaska, to see her brother honored.

They came to remember a man who appeared to view life as a limitless adventure, whose hobbies included running triathlons, scuba diving, kickboxing, flying a helicopter, rock climbing, hunting, fishing and cooking.

Like so many of the others, Smith was more than just a police officer, and the many loved ones and colleagues who came here Monday wanted America to know the full measure of the people whose names are now etched in stone.

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“He didn’t take himself seriously,” Columbus Police Department Commander Gary Cameron said of Smith, who defied the stereotype of the stoic cop. “He had a magnetic personality where everyone wanted to know him. Everyone wanted to be his friend.”

“I’m very proud to wear this uniform,” Cameron said. “Steve’s uniform.”

It’s been a tough year for Ohio law enforcement, made tougher by the loss last week of DiSario, who died along with nurse Marlina Medrano and nurse’s aide Cindy Krantz at the Pine Kirk Care Center in Kirkersville. All three were shot by Thomas Hartless, who then turned his gun on himself.

“Our hearts break of the chief’s family,” Trump said during his remarks to the group. “We love you.”

Trump, who planned to honor Police Week by having the White House lit up in blue, vowed that those gathered on the West Front of the Mall “will always find an open door to the White House.”

“Whatever you need, we are here for you and we are praying for you,” he said.

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Smith was one of five Ohio officers to die in the line of duty last year. In Danville, Officer Thomas Cottrell, 34, died after being ambushed in the parking lot of the village municipal building. In Hilliard, Sean R. Johnson, 46, died after crashing his motorcycle during a training exercise. In Cuyahoga County, Trooper Kenneth Velez, 48, died after being struck by a car during a traffic stop. In Chesapeake, Aaron Christian, 24, died after a cruiser accident.

The losses are tough, said Rich Brooks, president of the Columbus Ohio Division of Police Honor Guard. The job, he said, isn’t a “nine to five job.” The group spends enough time together that “we know each other’s successes and failures – it’s like having a brother or a sister.”

He said many of the 40 Columbus Police Department officers who went to Washington, D.C., to honor Smith paid their own way. When they get back, he said, they will attend services for DiSario.

“It’s too close to home,” Cameron said.

For Smith’s family, the journey was bittersweet. They were happy to see him honored and were touched to have so many of Smith’s fellow officers support them.

But it also brought back some of the pain — and the pride.

Like the other families on the Mall, Lisa Smith wore a lanyard identifying her as a survivor. On hers was a photograph of her husband, grinning broadly from the seat of a SWAT vehicle.

There is a story behind that photograph. The first time Smith was shot was in 2013. After he was released from the hospital he went back to work without telling his wife. When she called him on the job, he had little choice but to tell her the truth.

“I’m at a barricade,” he said. “Can I call you back?”

He knew she wasn’t happy, she said, so he posed for the photo to assure her he was just fine.

That was vintage Steve Smith, his colleagues said.

“We always had to find him work,” Columbus Police Sgt. Joe Podolski said. “Otherwise he’d find it on his own.”

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