Thousands of people lined the streets of Kelso and Longview on Wednesday morning to watch the funeral procession for slain sheriff’s deputy Justin DeRosier as the long line of law enforcement vehicles from around the state made its way to the memorial service in Portland.
Hundreds of other local residents viewed the service in the early afternoon as it was livestreamed at New Life Church in Longview and at Kelso High School.
Leilani Pilger, a Longview resident, said the procession was important for the community to show its support for the 29-year-old deputy and his family, which includes a wife, Katie, and five-month-old daughter Lilly.
PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center employee Carol Shea held an American flag as motorcyclists, police cars and ambulances passed by a silent crowd around 10:30 a.m. along Seventh Avenue near the Columbia Ford dealership. She said she came to pay her respects to the men and women in law enforcement that she interacts with in her job at the hospital.
“All these people work every day to save lives and keep us safe,” she said. “It’s just respectfulness and honor to say ‘Thank you.’ ”
She said the procession was hard to watch because DeRosier’s death represents a world where people don’t seem to be kind or caring anymore.
“We are destroyed by so many things and we end up destroying each other,” she said. “No one should have to go through this. No one should lose their husband or their father.”
Donna Hackney placed her hand on her heart as the vehicles streamed by. She came to pay her respects with her daughter Leticia Casarez and 3-year-old granddaughter Nova Christianson.
“My son is deployed in Kuwait and Iraq,” she said. “They’re all the same. They serve and protect. It’s good for (Nova) to see at an early age that police protect us.”
She said people don’t respect officers and military personnel as much as they should.
“They put their lives on the line. They deserve our respect, especially at the end,” she said.
The procession headed south down Seventh Avenue and then headed north up Third Avenue in Longview, passed the Cowlitz Hall of Justice and then crossed the Allen Street Bridge before turning south on Interstate 5. It took about 13 minutes for the procession to pass any one point. Nearly every I-5 overpass from Kelso to Portland was dotted with mourners and flags.
The procession took the body of the deputy, who was shot in Kalama late on the night of April 13, to the Chiles Center at the University of Portland, where thousands of people attended a memorial service that included the Seattle Police Pipes & Drums and Portland Police Highland guard.
About 400 people watched a livestream of the service at the New Life Church, at 2441 42nd Ave. in Longview.
Before the livestream began, Gail Sweesy said she attended because she cared for DeRosier’s grandmother, Dorothy, when she worked at Delaware Plaza. She lives in Kalama, near where DeRosier was killed, she said.
“This service is a way of saying goodbye to someone I knew,” she said.
Longview resident Brannon Starr said he frequently interacts with the sheriff’s office for his job with the Cowlitz County Maintenance Department. He spoke to DeRosier only a couple days before he died. He kept saying, “It’s just sad.”
“I sat outside the (maintenance shop) and watched the procession go by. It was incredible. I’ve never seen so many officers in such a show of support. It’s just like a family around there,” he said.
When the service began and the honor guard asked the audience to stand, those gathered in the Longview church rose as well. Some in the audience saluted.
Throughout the memorial, the audience chuckled and dabbed their eyes as local sheriffs and police chiefs who knew DeRosier spoke of his humor, dedication, curiosity and loyalty.
Afterwards, Kelso teacher Kerry Farnham called the service “beautiful and respectful. I was in awe. It was very moving and overwhelming in a positive way.”
Pat Doebele added that it made her think about what it’s like for law enforcement officers to respond to calls, not knowing if they are risking their lives.
“It made me think about the danger these guys and gals go out to every day,” she said. “They don’t know what kind of call it will be. Certainly he didn’t know.”
Bonnie Joslen, whose son Kody is a Kelso police officer, said she appreciated seeing the community rally around the DeRosier family.
The service was hard to watch, she said, because “It brings it close to home. It makes it real. We know all officers face that danger everyday, and we appreciate their sacrifice.”