LEWISTON — Piped in by the mournful sound of a lone bagpiper and accompanied by a police honor guard, the leaders of Niagara County law enforcement and those who have lost loved ones in the line of duty locally, celebrated the service of those who gave their lives to protect and serve the public.

The ninth annual Niagara County Police Memorial Service was conducted Thursday night at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lewiston. Niagara Falls Police Department Chaplain Patrick Bradley says the event fills a need in the community.

“Niagara County didn’t have a formal way of recognizing law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty,” he said. “Buffalo had a service every year, but we didn’t.”

The service, which began as a small memorial, has grown steadily each year and has been held at churches throughout the county.

“We’ve had very good participation from law enforcement,” Bradley said. “And growing public participation. We’d like to see the church full every year. We think the officers who serve us deserve that.”

Lewiston Police Chaplain Susan Keppy told those who attend the service that it was an opportunity to renew a vow to those who gave their lives in the line of duty.

“Our promise to them, and to those of you who loved them or served alongside them, is that they will never be forgotten,” Keppy said.

Rev. Rex Stewart, president of the Lewiston-Youngstown Clergy Association, in a letter read to those at the service, said this was an opportunity to pray for the families and friends and fellow officers who grieve the loss of officers who have lost their lives on the job.

“May we never take their sacrifices, nor the hard and dangerous work of their colleagues for granted.” Stewart said. “We pray for the safety of all who serve in law enforcement, and that peace and justice may rule throughout our communities and across this great land.”

Rev. Charles Lamb of First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown also wrote to remind those at the service not to forget that those in law enforcement lay their lives on the line every day.

“Even when this does not happen, the risk is always there,” Lamb said. “Like the air we breathe, we sometimes take the fact that we are protected for granted without realizing how different life would be if we had no one to call when in danger.”

The service’s featured speaker, Niagara County jail Chaplain William Whitmore offered a message of hope for current officers and survivor families.

“It’s not easy when we lose a loved one and it’s no different for the families of law enforcement,” he said. “I think it’s a unique situation and God offers a special grace to those who have suffered a loss.”

Bradley reminded those at the services about the most recent lives lost locally in law enforcement. In 2001, Coast Guard Station Niagara lost two of its members when their boat overturned during a law enforcement operation in Lake Ontario.

Last year, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department had to deal with the death of Sgt. Jeffrey Juron, a highly respected member of the department, who took his life while on duty.

“In 2004, Niagara Falls Police Officer Charles Fink was shot and wounded when police showed up during a home invasion robbery-in-progress. Officer Bob Gee returned fire and fatally wounded one of Officer Fink’s attackers,” Bradley said. “Less than a month later, the NFPD was rocked again when Officer Paul Nicastro committed suicide.”

The Falls Police chaplain also reminded people about the close call in 2002, for the Lockport Police Department, which was stunned when two of its members, Capt. Larry Eggert and K-9 Officer Steve Ritchie, were wounded during a pre-dawn shutout in a mobile home park.

Already this year, two New York State Police troopers have died in the line of duty. New York State Trooper Andrew J. (AJ) Sperr was shot and killed on March 1 and New York State Trooper Craig J. Todeschini, lost his life April 23 when his ATV crashed during a vehicle pursuit.

They join a total of 55 officers, nationwide, killed this year.

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