More Than 1,000 Gather to Mourn Pr. George's Officer

Police officers and firefighters from across the region gathered to remember Cpl. Richard Scott Findley, who was killed last week in the line of duty. Video by Kevin Clark/The Washington Post, Editor: Francine Uenuma/
By Philip Rucker and James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 4, 2008

Richard Scott Findley, the police officer and volunteer firefighter whose death in the line of duty jarred Prince George's County, was honored yesterday in a final salute that ended in silence with his burial atop a grassy knoll underneath a brilliant sun.

White-gloved police officers and firefighters from across the mid-Atlantic streamed into quiet Beltsville to mourn the 39-year-old officer during a farewell that snarled afternoon traffic, with cars backed up for miles in many of the Maryland suburbs.

The private funeral service, which drew more than 1,000 people, was followed by a two-hour procession of more than 500 police motorcycles, cruisers, firetrucks and other emergency vehicles escorting Findley's flag-draped oak coffin, carried atop a fire engine.

In his eulogy, Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin C. High called Findley a "brave soldier of God," saying the officer left "footprints on our hearts." High posthumously promoted Findley to sergeant and awarded his family the department's memorial medal. High said yesterday's outpouring was a display of the community's strength, and he had harsh words for the man accused of killing Findley.

"It is not sufficient to mourn and offer condolences, although those are important and necessary demonstrations of sorrow," High said. "We have each been assaulted, and we must not give quarter or peace or hiding to the thieves and thugs who live in our midst and addict our children, enslaving them to a life of degradation."

After the service at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, four Beltsville firefighters hoisted Findley's coffin onto a fire engine to begin a procession that journeyed past the police station where he worked and the two firehouses where he volunteered.

Police closed all four lanes of the Capital Beltway's inner loop as well as Route 50 in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties to make way for the procession, which stretched for eight miles.

The procession ended at Lakemont Memorial Gardens in rural Davidsonville, west of Annapolis, where Findley was buried amid 24 bouquets of flowers. Buried nearby in 2005 was his friend and training officer, Cpl. Steven Gaughan, the previous Prince George's officer killed in the line of duty.

During the 20-minute interment, a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" and was joined for the second refrain by 23 others. A trumpeter played taps, and Findley was accorded a three-volley salute.

Before the morning funeral, hundreds of color guard officers assembled 45 minutes early. They stood at attention holding their flags and rifles, their black boots glistening.

"Forward, march. Detail, halt."

Soon the black hearse carrying Findley's coffin was ushered in by a 160-motorcycle entourage. There was an eerie silence, except for the rumble of motorcycle engines and the chirping of birds. Findley's widow, Kelly, and their two daughters, Nicole, 9, and Lauren, 6, wearing black and white dresses, one clutching a teddy bear, followed his coffin into the sanctuary.

"He kept the peace, he kept us safe and our heavenly father called him home far too soon," Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said in a eulogy. "Kelly, Nicole, Lauren: If it is true that you are indeed as strong as you are loved, you are the three strongest women in Maryland today."

Inside the single-story church, Findley was remembered in song and prayer beneath a stained-glass rose window. Glossy white programs, with a color portrait of the Findleys on the front, were stacked in piles. A collage inside showed more images of Findley: in his police uniform; holding one of his daughters as a newborn; wearing a Santa Claus hat; dressed in formal clothes; pictured with the family dog.

"Rich, my husband, my soul mate, we not only had a perfect marriage, but were perfect for each other," Kelly Findley wrote in a message that was included in the program. "Through our union, you gave me our two beautiful children who love you so much. You were a man who was never afraid to show them love and affection, and they will always remember you that way."

Several hundred relatives, friends, officers and county officials attended the service, while hundreds of other officers and firefighters listened through speakers on the church grounds. During the eulogies, Air Force One was seen circling above the church.

"There are so many memories, those signs, those traces in your homes and in your hearts that can and will remind you of him," the Rev. J. Michael Quill said as he officiated the service. "More recently, you can't help but remember how he offered his life for the county, for the community, for us."

As he prepared to honor his fallen comrade, Prince George's fire technician Rodenard Davis polished his shoes with a cloth and looked carefully in the rearview mirror of his pickup truck as he adjusted his tie and polished his black shoes.

"The bagpipes. That's what does it," he said. "Tears come to your eyes, but you try to hold it in."

Anne Arundel County Deputy Sheriff Barry Walters, a former Prince George's officer, described the memorials as a kick in the stomach.

"It only seems to get worse and worse, but this is the only way we can deal with it -- to come together as a police family and recognize and honor him for his service," he said.

With sweat pouring down the faces of many uniformed officers, Boy Scouts handed out bottled water to the officers.

"This guy's a true hero," said Curtis Gill, 11, of Adelphi. "I just wanted to honor him any way I could, big or small."

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