It was nine years ago this month that Pierce County endured the most tragic day in local law enforcement history. Four Lakewood police officers were ambushed and fatally shot by a vengeful ex-convict as they chatted over coffee before their patrol shifts on Nov. 29, 2009.
While their community enjoyed the end of a long Thanksgiving weekend, the officers — Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Greg Richards, Tina Griswold and Ronald Owens — met at the Forza coffee shop on the edge of Parkland, and got ready to protect and serve like any other day.
They knew wearing a badge always brings the unexpected. They knew to be prepared for any storm. But by all rights, their morning cup of joe should have been the calm before it.
Exactly one year after “the Lakewood Four” died in the line of duty, a stirring memorial was dedicated outside the Forza shop on South Steele Street, at the corner of 116th Street South, which was newly christened as “Officers Memorial Drive.”
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Today, that hallowed ground desperately needs some TLC. If the public is to hold on to memories of fallen first responders and reflect on their sacrifice, then memorials like this can’t be allowed to decay.
The flags that fly on four poles above the memorial wall have obviously seen wind, rain and neglect. A visit to the site Wednesday morning, prompted by an angry News Tribune reader, showed the U.S. flag to be in half-decent shape. But the Lakewood Police Department flag was frayed, the Washington state flag was sheared in half and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department flag was an unidentifiable stub.
Engraved on the side of the memorial are five words spoken by then-Gov. Christine Gregoire during the officers’ memorial service: “We are a grateful state.”
Today the site no longer exudes gratitude.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor issued a challenge when the memorial was dedicated at the otherwise nondescript strip mall in 2010. “This marks a spot of tremendous loss,” he said, “and the community needs to remember that loss.”
Indeed, it does. Two weeks from now, at 8:14 a.m. Nov. 29, people all around the South Sound would do well to share in a moment of silence for Renninger, Richards, Griswold and Owens, and say a prayer for the families left behind.
The memorial plaza would be a fitting place to do that. But first, we hope it gets the attention it deserves from county or city officials, or from the owners of BlueSteele Coffee. (They bought the shop from Forza in 2012.)
It won’t take much — raise new flags, maybe rake some leaves — but it will go a long way toward restoring the image of what a grateful state looks like.