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Vigil planned to honor slain lawmen
Memorial tree recognizes 528 N.C. officers who died in the line of duty

SPRING HOPE — Flickering flames will illuminate the names and pictures of 528 fallen law enforcement officers Monday evening.

Carie Jones, who decorated an artificial Christmas tree in her front yard with a laminated placard for each North Carolina officer killed in the line of duty, is planning a candlelight vigil to express appreciation for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

"I would like for my yard to be filled, to tell you the truth,” Jones said. "I think it would be wonderful for all of us to come together and honor the fallen officers and the officers who are still protecting us.”

Jones is the niece of Sharpsburg Police Chief Willard "Wayne” Hathaway, who was fatally shot responding to a domestic dispute in July 1997. She decorated the fallen officers’ memorial tree as a tribute to her uncle and the hundreds of other North Carolina lawmen who died in the line of duty.

With her family’s help, Jones began work on the memorial after Thanksgiving and placed it in her front yard the first week of December. Her mother helped find the names, pictures and end-of-watch dates on the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website dedicated to preserving the officers’ memories.

The site lists more than 21,500 slain officers in the United States since 1791, including 528 in North Carolina. No line-of-duty deaths had been reported in 2014 as of Thursday night. The website’s most recent entry is Darrell Windhaus, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent who died of a heart attack while inspecting a ship Dec. 29 in Brownsville, Texas.

Jones shared pictures of the tree on Facebook and uploaded a video to YouTube.

"There was someone who commented on YouTube that she saw her great-great grandfather,” Jones said. "That really touched my heart.”

The tree in her front yard has attracted plenty of attention, with appreciative neighbors, passersby and local officers and their families stopping by to say thank you. Jones said a Nashville police officer gave her a challenge coin featuring the police department’s badge, an in-house design.

"The appreciation everyone has shown has just been overwhelming,” she said.

Jones hopes hundreds will attend the Monday evening vigil. She’s spreading the word on social media sites and asking neighbors to spread the word.

While the tree honors officers who have died in the line of duty, Jones said the memorial and candlelight vigil are also meant to honor the men and women still serving in law enforcement.

"A lot of law enforcement officers feel like they’re not appreciated,” she said. "I think it means a lot to them for us to come together and honor the ones who have died. I think coming together and showing our support would mean the world to all the law enforcement officers out there.”

The candlelight vigil is planned for 6 p.m. Monday at Jones’s home on Bend of the River Road near Old Bailey Highway southeast of Spring Hope and just west of Interstate 95.

Jones said she’s purchased 100 candles, a supply that will quickly dwindle if the event is well-attended. Guests are encouraged to bring their own candles to supplement the ones on hand.

The vigil is open to the public, with law enforcement officers and their families invited to attend as well as anyone in the area who would like to express appreciation. Attendees who would like to speak will be able to do so.

"I’m planning on saying a few words,” Jones said. "I’m not sure exactly what I want to say — I’m still praying on that. But I would like to speak to the officers who gave their lives and to the ones who are still protecting us today. I would just like to show my appreciation.” | 265-7821
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