More than 200 cops made it to Rock Hill’s First Baptist Church on Wednesday for the 18th annual memorial service to honor York County police officers killed on duty.
At one side of Rock Hill’s largest sanctuary, with the Fort Mill Police Department contingent, sat Officer Will Reap. At the other side, with the Rock Hill cops, sat Officer Trista Baird.
Both sat silently and clapped and did not cry. Reap clapped with two bullet scars on his arm. Baird clapped with a steel rod in her arm and scars on her wrist.
Both were shot in February 2010 when a drug dealer decided it was OK to shoot cops.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, the featured speaker, told the crowd that it is not all right to shoot cops. Police have the most dangerous, least appreciated job in America, he said.
Underwood knows what it is like to get shot, too. In 2003, he took a bullet while trying to apprehend a killer and barely lived.
First Baptist sits about 200 yards from the exact spot where the last York County officer to be shot on duty was killed.
Deputy Brent McCants died 20 years ago this past September. There is a small memorial to him – and all the other officers who have died on duty – near where the two career criminals shot McCants during a 1992 traffic stop.
Wednesday’s service was the 18th for McCants’ mother, so close to where her son died. She cried when Underwood spoke his name.
Underwood was among the police officers who caught the two shooters who killed Deputy McCants. Just 23 at the time, McCants had just transferred in 1992 from the Rock Hill Police Department to the York County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s Lt. Kelly Lovelace, who sang the national anthem Wednesday, worked with Brent McCants.
“I think about him every day,” she told his mother.
Underwood recounted that night, driving so fast, siren blaring and blue lights flashing, to help hunt the killers of Brent McCants.
“I was mad and then I cried and then I was more mad and cried some more,” Underwood said.
Then Underwood said how, despite natural inclinations to want to take punishments into his own hands, he did not.
“Because we are the police and we do the right thing,” he said. “We are sworn to uphold the law.”
Later, Myra McCants embraced Underwood and thanked him. She embraced Kevin Brackett, the prosecutor who put the killers in prison.
“This shows that people will never forget Brent,” she said, as the family of Trooper Kevin Cusack cried.
Cusack died in a wreck just three years ago. At the table next to them, Barbara Johns sat with her family. Her father, Rock Hill Officer Bill Singleton, was shot and killed 45 years ago.
“I have been coming here every year and I am so thankful that people remember my father and his service,” Johns said.
At the next table sat Sue Jordan Phillips, a widow since New Year’s Eve 1975. That was the day a killer shot her husband, Rock Hill Officer Steve Jordan, 14 times.
“These ceremonies make sure that people don’t forget what happened,” Phillips said afterward.
After the crying.
All the families cried.
The cops, those who work and wear the badge and uniform, did not cry.
They must be tough at every traffic stop, because the driver might be holding a gun. That happened three times in Rock Hill alone on Tuesday, the day before the memorial. In any of those incidents, an officer could have been shot or killed.
Still, the cops went to work.
In Rock Hill Tuesday, police reports show, 21 times police officers went into situations after the public had called the cops asking for help. The officers went into uncertainty and more.
In one incident late Tuesday, Rock Hill officers teamed with county deputies and Fort Mill cops to arrest a man who had waved a gun in traffic on a busy street filled with kids and parents and dreams.
There was no TV footage. No “Cops” show where police are glorified. Just danger.
They do it simply to protect the rest of us. And to help people.
In the Rock Hill police reports from late Tuesday, as the hall was being prepared for the memorial event, was an incident in which rookie Officer Erik Sizemore found a wallet in the parking lot at a McDonald’s restaurant while on patrol.
Sizemore tried to find the person who lost it, made calls and talked to people, but was unsuccessful. He put the wallet into evidence so that whoever lost his or her identity might not become a victim, too.
Sizemore also was one of two cops who chased and caught a rifle-toting shooter last summer after the guy shot store clerk Ricky Patel twice in a robbery at a convenience store at the busy corner of Cherry Road and Main Street.
He and officer L.J. Vandermolen were each other’s backup, and they did not quit, and so a shooter who maimed was caught.
A half-dozen of the incidents Tuesday in Rock Hill involved guns and gunplay. Others involved beaten children and attempted murder and robberies during which old women’s back doors were kicked in.
“There is nobody else to call at that time when you need help,” Sheriff Underwood said to the crowd. “There is nobody for us to call. You call the police. This is where it stops.”
He pointed to his chest, near where he was shot a decade ago.
At the same time, Trista Baird clapped with her surgically repaired arm that was damaged by a bullet. Will Reap clapped with his arm, scarred by a bullet.
Then all those officers filed out and went right back to work.