Alexandria, VA – On September 26, National Law Enforcement Suicide Awareness Day, the Alexandria Police Department unveiled a memorial to honor officers who lost their lives to suicide. Etched on the memorial are the words: “In darkness, there is light,” a phrase that encapsulated the feeling of the ceremony: somber but hopeful.
Despite wisps of rain and tears, the warm words of those who spoke and the long embraces between fellow officers and civilians alike showed the overwhelming prevalence of hope over despair. The memorial was dedicated to two officers lost to suicide: Jason Kline, who passed in 2004, and Steven Pagach IV, who passed in 2011.
The ceremony included remarks by several former and current officers. Vina White sang the national anthem and the Alexandria honor guard presented the colors. Police Chief Don Hayes gave the invocation.
The memorial is a black granite slate that stands firm in a garden outside police headquarters beside the memorial for officers killed in the line of duty. The stone was chosen and donated from the Ivy Hill Cemetery, whose board chair is former Sheriff Dana Lawhorne.
The plan for such a memorial was conceived by Lieutenant Tara May of the Alexandria Police Department. May was a close friend of Kline and Pagach. She envisioned the memorial while attending the FBI National Academy, in which she took part in a presentation on mental struggles in high-stress work environments.
Lieutenant May said that the memorial is intended to remove the stigma of talking about mental health. May says the goal is to “memorialize instead of run away” from the tragedy. The process started in June and took coordination from all parties to construct the memorial in time for National Law Enforcement Suicide Awareness Day.
Volunteer Ginny Hill-Obranovich coordinated much of the project. She organized the construction of the Fallen Officers Memorial in 2015. Dana Lawhorne said the words etched in the stone reminded him of Tara and Ginny’s compassion and effort in creating the memorial. “I put two and two together,” said Lawhorne, “I realized they are the light.”
Retired APD Deputy Chief Hassan Aden shared words about the departed. “They were the silent heroes who bravely faced the darkest corners of our society to keep us safe, but they were also human beings, and like many of us here today, they carried the burdens of policing with them.”
All the speakers commented on the trauma that many officers carry with them, and the officers in attendance could empathize. The memorial is a tribute to all those who suffered in silence and a staunch reminder of the cost of such a burden.
“The weight of the badge is not just physical. It is emotional and mental,” said Aden. Officials from the department pledged to dedicate more resources to preserving officers’ mental health and creating a more open space for a dialogue about the mental strains of the job.
“We miss their enormous presence in our lives,” said former Police Chief David Baker. “We salute their excellence and bravery in service to others. Make no mistake, they are and always will be our brothers in blue.”
All the speakers made it clear: the officers’ sacrifices would not be in vain. Tara May said she hopes also to complete a plaque near one of the entrances to remind officers daily that it’s okay to ask for help, saying, “Where there is struggling, there is hope.”
A quiet reception followed the ceremony. Kind words and coffee helped attendees warm up from the afternoon mist.