The nearly-setting sun shone brightly on an intimate ceremony Wednesday evening to honor local officers killed in the line of duty. If you looked close enough, you might see beads of sweat dripping off the chins of the unflinching, statuesque color guard.
Following the national anthem and presentation of colors, Hernando County Sheriff’s Office chaplain John Mitten offered an opening benediction.
“Let us go to the lord in prayer,” Mitten said. “Father we come today to thank you … that you’ve given heroes hearts and the courage of lions to stand against the evil-doers of this world.”
Sheriff Al Nienhuis remembered the rainy, “very gloomy” day of Dep. John Mecklenburg’s funeral in July 2011, and saying how the weather was befitting of “such a sad day.”
“It’s kind of ironic we had such a beautiful day today,” Nienhuis said.
Nienhuis said the ceremony, which remembered Mecklenburg, Lonnie Coburn and Scott Bierwiler, was kept brief because everyone handles grief differently, and he invited family and friends to visit the sheriff’s office memorial any time to pay their respects.
“They were all men of character, and I’ve gotten to know them through their legacies,” Nienhuis said.
In addition to their “ultimate sacrifice,” Nienhuis acknowledged the sacrifices leading up to their deaths that ought to be remembered, as well — missed birthday parties and holiday gatherings are “equally important.”
“I don’t know why the good lord takes the good ones from us,” Nienhuis added.
After a prayer by Mitten and the sheriff’s remarks, family members of the three officers placed yellow roses on a wreath.
Nona Nemec pinned a rose for her late husband, Dep. Lonnie Coburn, shot and killed Feb. 21, 1978 while pursuing suspects in the rape and murder of a young woman.
Capt. Scott Bierwiler’s wife, Angela, and two of his three children placed a rose on the memorial. Bierwiler was killed on Feb. 19, 2009 when a teenage driver hit his patrol car head-on.
Mecklenburg was killed July 3, 2011 after he lost control of his car while pursing a suspect in Hernando County. Mecklenburg’s widow’s mother, Sharon Slechta, pinned the rose in his memory. Penny Mecklenburg attended the fallen officer’s national memorial in Washington, D.C.
The suspect, Michael Anthony, is charged with attempted felony murder, attempted murder in the second degree, aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement, aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, felony fleeing to elude and reckless driving. His trial is set for late June.