Memorial service honors fallen officers

May 6—Toledo Police Chief George Kral held the frayed end of an American flag as Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth told how it had become worn when flown at half-staff in honor of fallen police officers.

The sheriff, who is chair of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, explained the flag hit the brick of county jail, causing the damage, only when it was lowered.

"Because every time that flag was lowered, it was lowered for a fallen officer," he said. "And every time that flag hit the building, it was hitting home to me."

Chief Kral and two Toledo officers participated Thursday in the annual ceremony at the Ohio Fallen Officer Memorial outside the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London. Because the service could not be held in 2020 due to the coronavirus, seven officers who died in the line of duty in 2019 and 2020 were honored, including Toledo police Officer Anthony Dia.

Officer Dia's wife, Jayme, his two sons, Younes and Maytham, and his parents, Younes "Tony" Dia and Gina Long, attended. Attendance was restricted due to the ongoing pandemic, but it was live-streamed for public viewing.

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Sheriff Stanforth took the worn end of the flag from Chief Kral, dedicating small sections of ragged fibers to each of the seven officers honored.

"This frayed thread, Officer Dia," he said as the chief looked on.

Officer Dia, 26, was shot and killed in the early morning hours July 4. His final call was to check the safety of an intoxicated man, later identified as 57-year-old Edward Henry, at the Home Depot at Alexis Road and Lewis Avenue. Officer Dia was trying to catch up to Henry as the man walked away when Henry turned and fired a single shot from a .22-caliber handgun.

The bullet struck a vulnerable underarm area not protected by Officer Dia's body armor, and he was rushed to ProMedica Toledo Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Henry was found soon after in a wooded area near the Home Depot, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

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Gold-fringed American flags with black ribbons bearing each officer's name were pulled from black sleeves and individually walked around the memorial.

"These men and women did not become heroes the day that they gave their lives in the line of duty," Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. "No, they became heroes the first day they put on the uniform and the badge and reported for duty and accepted the risks that go with that duty."

Chief Kral said it's a much different experience being part of the annual service than it is visiting to pay respects as he has done before.

"It makes it more real," he said after the ceremony. "When you wear the same uniform as someone whose name is being read, it gets very emotional."

With the new additions, there are 809 names etched into the stone wall of the memorial, remembering Ohio officers who died in the line of duty since 1823.

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"I was wondering how I was going to find Anthony's name and I glanced over and I just happened to be sitting right next to him," Chief Kral said.

Attempts to reach members of Officer Dia's family after the ceremony were unsuccessful.

Chief Kral will return and participate in next year's memorial service, which will honor Officer Brandon Stalker, 24. Officer Stalker was shot in the head Jan.18 in the 2200 block of Fulton Street when a barricaded suspect emerged after a two-hour standoff, firing two 9mm handguns at police. Suspect Christopher Harris, 27, was shot and killed on-scene by other officers' return fire.

Mr. Yost said law enforcement is a "fundamental requirement for any healthy and prosperous society." He also acknowledged the ongoing increased tension across the country between law enforcement and the public, saying "police are being painted as enemies of society, not its defenders. As threats to the community, rather than its protectors."

"We can't deny that law-enforcement is a human institution, and like all things that are human, there are flaws and mistakes, sometimes even injustice," he said. "That obvious truth does not make the mission of justice less important. It makes it more important."

Other officers memorialized in Thursday's ceremony were: William L. Brewer, Jr., Clermont County Sheriff's Office; Jorge R. Del Rio, Dayton Police Department; Kaia LaFay Grant, Springdale Police Department; Adam McMillan, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office; James M. Skernivitz, Cleveland Police Department; and Dale J. Woods, Colerain Township Police Department.

Also recognized were three historical police deaths: William T. Hyatt, Wellsville Police Department, who died Feb. 25, 1923; Claude McCormick, Oakwood Public Safety Department, who died Aug. 29, 1933; and Charles William Giles, Ironton Police Department, who died Nov. 26, 1988.

First Published May 6, 2021, 2:37pm

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