By Rachel Christian
A special memorial ceremony honoring fallen members of law enforcement took place outside the Osceola County Courthouse Wednesday morning.
A crowd of local officers, deputies and community leaders gathered in the courtyard to pay respect to uniformed men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty.
The memorial was held in observation of Peace Officers Memorial Day, a holiday that was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It is traditionally observed May 15 during a massive ceremony in Washington D.C.
Peace Officers Memorial Day is one of several events now celebrated during National Police Week.
Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell, Kissimmee City Manager Mike Steigerwald and
others from Osceola County traveled to Arlington National Cemetery last week for the occasion.
Stacie Miller, public information officer for KPD, said Osceola County typically holds its own memorial for fallen officers on May 15 as well, but chose to hold it a week later this year to accommodate the officers and officials who traveled to Washington D.C. for the national ceremony.
Wednesday’s service in Kissimmee paid homage to the seven individuals from KPD, the St. Cloud Police Department and Osceola County Sheriff’s Office who have been killed in the line of duty since 1983.
Kissimmee Police Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard became the most recent local law enforcement casualties in August, when the two men were gunned down while responding to a call the night of Aug. 18, 2017. Baxter and Howard were the first officers killed in Osceola County in 17 years.
The widows of both men were present at Wednesday’s ceremony, along with relatives and loved ones of other fallen officers.
Nineteen members of the Osceola County criminal justice system who passed away in 2017 but not killed while on duty were also remembered at Wednesday’s event.
Students from the Osceola County School for the Arts punctuated the ceremony’s somber mood with moving renditions of patriotic classics like “God Bless America” and “Because of the Brave.”
The memory of departed officers were also honored through a presentation of wreaths, a 21-gun salute and a rendition of Echo Taps by the VFW Buglers.
Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson announced that a special monument honoring fallen officers and deputies in the community is set to be constructed outside the courthouse using funds from all three law enforcement agencies and the Osceola County Department of Corrections.
Miller said details concerning the monument, including its cost, are still being considered by a special committee, but added that more information will be released to the public as it becomes available.
A highly decorated serviceman named Col. Danny McKnight served as the event’s keynote speaker.
McKnight, U.S. Army Retired, graduated from Cocoa High School and Brevard Community College. He is a decorated member of the military who earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star Medal of Valor and several other honors during his career. He also served in Somalia in 1993 during a conflict that inspired the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”
McKnight spoke about the bravery and sacrifice of law enforcement officers, military personnel and first responders.
“We must never ever forget those who have paid the greatest price of all so that we can be sitting here today, safe and sound,” McKnight said. “We, together, will stop the