Thousands of twinkling lights memorializing the fallen glistened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as dusk settled over the nation’s capital on Thursday evening. Employees from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and thousands of other law enforcement personnel from across the country gathered with family and friends at the 33rd Annual Candlelight Vigil to remember their colleagues and loved ones who had died in the line of duty.
The vigil, held on Oct. 14, was a special tribute to 701 fallen officers whose names were read during the ceremony this year and etched on the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Those honored at the formal dedication included 434 individuals who had died in the line of duty in 2019 and 2020, and 267 prior-year fatalities.
The ceremony, usually held in-person during National Police Week in May, was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “For the last 18 months we haven’t been able to be together. We have read names virtually and we have been on the phone and on Zoom,” said Lori Sharpe Day, the chair of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Board of Directors, who welcomed the attendees at the vigil. “But tonight is a chance to recognize how important it is for all of us to be here together to read these officers’ names and recognize their sacrifice.”
During 2020, 62% of the deaths in the law enforcement community were a result of COVID-19. Of the 295 deaths in 2020 that were approved for the memorial, 182 were COVID-19-related.
“The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for law enforcement, and it has inflicted a devastating toll. Of the hundreds of members of law enforcement who died in the line of duty during the pandemic, nearly two-thirds succumbed to COVID-19,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who gave the opening remarks at the event. “Through it all and despite the increased risks to your health and your safety, you have continued to protect the communities you serve.”
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also spoke at the vigil. “The Department of Homeland Security, the largest law enforcement department in the federal government, has lost too many heroes over the past two years,” said Mayorkas. “We relentlessly continue to execute our mission as the best way to honor those who have fallen. We carry forward the awesome responsibility to protect and to serve as they did every single day.”
Mayorkas also addressed the surviving family members. “When a law enforcement officer steps out of his or her home to serve the community, the family steps out with them,” he said. “You, the families, are heroes too. I wish I could shake each and every one of your hands. Let me light a candle this evening and say, ‘thank you.’”
The Candlelight Vigil culminated with Attorney General Garland, Secretary Mayorkas, and other officials reading the 701 names added to the memorial wall this year. The names were read state-by-state and included 23 individuals from CBP and its legacy agencies.
Two of CBP’s fallen were historic deaths that were recently discovered by local historians. One was Frederick H. Bathey, a U.S. Bureau of Immigration inspector, who died on Jan 29, 1897, when he fell from an inbound passenger train while conducting an inspection in the Port Huron Tunnel between Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Bathey was attempting to enter the last car of the train, but fell to the tracks in the dark tunnel. He suffered fatal injuries when he was struck by the wheels of the train car. “Inspector Bathey is the first immigration inspector we are aware of who died in the line of duty,” said CBP Survivor Advocate Jonathan McElhaney.
The other historic death was John A. Fallon, a U.S. Customs Service inspector, who died on Nov. 5, 1890, after falling through a hatchway aboard a steam ship while conducting an inspection in Baltimore, Maryland.
The remaining 21 employees who were honored include:
- CBP Officer Richard Rios, Ysleta Port of Entry, El Paso, Texas;
- CBP Officer Jose A. Santana, Laredo Port of Entry, Laredo, Texas;
- Air Interdiction Agent Christopher D. Carney, McAllen Air and Marine Branch;
- CBP Officer Domingo Jasso III, Progreso/Donna Port of Entry, Progreso, Texas;
- CBP Officer Carlo Cayabyab, Tecate Port of Entry, Tecate, California;
- CBP Officer Lucas Saucedo, Eagle Pass Port of Entry, Eagle Pass, Texas;
- Border Patrol Agent Marco A. Gonzales, Brackettville Station, Brackettville, Texas;
- Border Patrol Agent Agustin Aguilar Jr., Eagle Pass South Station, Eagle Pass, Texas;
- CBP Officer Roel De La Fuente, Hidalgo Port of Entry, Hidalgo, Texas;
- Border Patrol Agent Enrique J. Rositas Jr., McAllen Station, McAllen, Texas;
- CBP Officer Alfonso Murrieta, Port of Tucson, Tucson, Arizona;
- Border Patrol Agent Johan S. Mordan, Lordsburg Station, Lordsburg, New Mexico;
- CBP Officer Ching Kok “CK” Yan, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, New York;
- Field Technology Officer James Taylor, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, New York;
- CBP Officer Omar E. Palmer, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, New York;
- CBP Officer Richard G. McCoy, Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Fort Lauderdale, Florida;
- CBP Technician Van M. Dong, Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California;
- Border Patrol Agent Luis O. Peña, Jr., Casa Grande Station, Casa Grande, Arizona;
- Border Patrol Agent Robert M. Hotten, Sonoita Station, Tucson, Arizona;
- Border Patrol Agent Donna M. Doss, Abilene Station, Abilene, Texas; and,
- Air Interdiction Agent James S. Litz, National Air Security Operations Center, Corpus Christi, Texas.
Immediately following the reading of names, the crowd lit candles that were held in tribute to their lost family members, friends, and colleagues. “As we raise our candles skyward in silent tribute, but united by light, we pledge to always remember and cherish those who have fallen, those who have been left behind, and those who continue to serve,” said the vigil’s master of ceremonies. “Let us always remember it’s not how these heroes died, but how they lived.”