For nine years, Chris Cosgriff has meticulously collected details, photographs and badge numbers of law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty around the country and has displayed the information in online tributes. He labors, he says, so that the officers and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.
Arlington County Special Officer Louis F. Shaw's death nearly 70 years ago went largely unnoticed until Cosgriff's work. Shaw was publicly recognized for the first time last month during National Police Week, an annual gathering in Washington attended by thousands of peace officers from around the world to honor those killed while on duty.
Cosgriff's research into Shaw's death also led to the officer being honored by the Arlington County Police Department, which had known nothing about the incident because the agency wasn't officially formed until several years after he was killed.
Shaw's living relatives knew most of the details of his death but hadn't thought to request that his name be added to the blue marble walls of the National Law Enforcement Memorial, which sits on Judiciary Square in the District and bears the names of more than 17,000 fallen officers.
"Here it's been 70 years and most of my family is gone, but we're finally learning the real details," said Frank Marcey, 67, of Sterling, Shaw's nephew. "It's been a very emotional, and pleasurable, time for us."
None of it would have been possible, Marcey said, had Cosgriff not dedicated himself to learning the truth about fallen officers.
"He did a tremendous job," Marcey continued. "For him to do all he did, we're just very honored."
Cosgriff, 27, created his Web site, at www.odmp.org, while a freshman at James Madison University in Harrisonburg. Working from his dorm room, he designed a basic site after being angered by an article he read in The Washington Post's Metro section about a Prince George's County man who was released from prison 17 years after killing two county police officers. Around the same time, a female officer from the Philadelphia Police Department was killed while trying to stop a bank robbery.
"I had learned a little about Web sites, and so I just created it," Cosgriff said. He wrote a few sentences about the Jan. 2, 1996, slaying of Philadelphia Officer Lauretha Vaird. A few days later, a patrolman with the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Police Department was killed by gunfire. Cosgriff added the officer, Bryant H. Peney, to the site.
"His twin brother found the site and e-mailed me to thank me, and it meant a lot to me. It's what got me going to really honor all officers on the site, and over time it's just grown," said Cosgriff, a slender man with a boyish face and a tuft of closely cropped hair.
During its first month online, the Web site, called the Officer Down Memorial Page, had 240 visitors. Today, it has about 16,000 different visitors a month, people who sift through the lives of 17,000 officers from all 50 states and U.S.-owned territories. Among those listed are a Howard County police officer killed in 1961 and two from the county sheriff's department -- Constable Charles T. Weber and Deputy Sheriff John Miller -- who died on duty in 1924 and 1926.
The police officer, 33-year-old Randolph E. Brightwell, was shot and killed after he stopped a car in Ellicott City for having a loud muffler, according to the Web site. Unbeknownst to Brightwell, the two men in the car had just robbed a convenience store and killed the clerk. Weber, 48, died after he fell from a car that sped off while he was standing on the running board. Miller, 65, suffered a heart attack after struggling with a prisoner, according to the Web site.
The site boasts a team of six volunteer researchers, including Cosgriff, who investigate all claims of long-forgotten line-of-duty deaths. They're researching about 300. Cosgriff spends about 30 hours a week working on and adding to the site, he said, mostly from a computer in the basement of his home in Oakton. That's in addition to his full-time job as a solutions engineer for the technology firm NovusCG, based at the Pentagon.
Last year, Cosgriff and his volunteers discovered 49 forgotten deaths in addition to Shaw's, including those of two Loudoun County police officers.
Montgomery County's police department has had 14 line-of-duty deaths, which are chronicled on the site.
The Web site "is important to help remember that these officers gave their life for this community," said Officer Julia Gilroy, Montgomery police spokesman. An 11-year veteran of the Montgomery police department, she said, "You realize this is almost a daily occurrence, that somewhere an officer is killed practically every day."
The first death listed on the site was that of Joseph Asbury Case, 42, who died Dec. 17, 1928, after he was injured when his patrol motorcycle struck the back of a car that had stopped in the middle of Rockville Pike.
The two most recent on-duty police officer deaths are also on the site. Capt. Joseph Aloysius Mattingly Jr., 51, died Sept. 13, 2003, after his patrol car struck a tree on Bradley Boulevard near the Capital Beltway.
At the time of Mattingly's death, it had been nine years since a Montgomery officer died in the line of duty. Officer James E. Walch died Jan. 25, 1994, when his police cruiser spun out of control and hit a utility pole while he was pursuing a car thief.
Over the years Cosgriff's work has evolved into a research tool for academics and historians and a teaching and training resource for hundreds of police departments across the country.
Locally, Prince William County, Fairfax County, Alexandria and Prince George's County are among the jurisdictions that use the site to teach recruits about the perils of policing.
It has also helped Cosgriff forge important relationships with those involved in the National Law Enforcement Memorial, he said. He credits the memorial with giving him a list of 10,000 fallen officers killed before 1996 to add to his site. Every time he discovers a new death, he sends the information to memorial officials, he said.
But even if the names don't make it onto the National Memorial, either because the agencies don't respond or the fallen officers don't make the cut for some reason, the dead are memorialized online, a source of comfort to their relatives, Cosgriff said.
Cosgriff harbors dreams of becoming a law enforcement officer some day. He wanted to join the Fairfax County Police Department after high school but didn't meet the department's age requirement of 21. He didn't know what to do until he turned 21, so he decided he'd go to college, where he fell in love with computers and technology and learned to create Web sites.
"I'm not looking for recognition or money," he said. "I hear from widows and children and relatives about how much the site means to them. It makes it all worth it for me, and it keeps me going. I feel like I know these officers now."