The coronavirus has stopped so many things in our lives from the basics like hugs and handshakes to the big life event such as weddings and funerals. This year it also stopped the way police officers grieve and honor those lost in the line of duty.
Tomorrow, May 15th, is National Peace Officers Memorial Day the culmination of National Law Enforcement Memorial Week. Normally this week, at least 100 Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers would be getting out of uniform and into their bike shorts to participate in the 500-mile “Bike to DC.” This four-day marathon ride from Charlotte to DC, traditionally ends in a candlelight vigil in front of the Washington Monument to honor all those fallen in the line of duty. In 2020, there will be 307 nationwide to remember.
Although the official Bike to DC was cancelled, six local CMPD officers and friends were not going to let this Memorial Week pass without honoring their local fallen heroes like Mooresville K9 officer Jordan Sheldon. A six year veteran, the friendly, dedicated policeman known as “Officer Smiley,” was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop May 4, 2019. This year, the officers created their own 100-mile ride from Charlotte to Mooresville to honor Sheldon.
Yesterday, CMPD officers attached a photo to the back of their bike seats which depicted Sheldon smiling with his police dog and the message, “Thank you for your service. We will never forget.” For all the officers, it was one of their precious days off, but they chose to spend it biking 100 miles roundtrip from uptown Charlotte to Mooresville to remember all those who give their lives to this job.
Explaining his reason for riding, Sgt. Rollin Mackel said, “I came on duty as he (Sheldon) passed. I worked with Mooresville PD to help facilitate the initial transport and honor escort leaving the hospital. I met his colleagues in the hospital. It’s hard not to do something when you’ve seen such a tragedy.”
Mackel and the police bike team was joined by pastor Lonnie Clouse founder of First Responders First a nonprofit dedicated to serving officers and their families. For 17 years, Lonnie was a chaplain to the NASCAR community with Motor Racing Outreach (MRO). When his position was eliminated, Lonnie reached out to the Concord, NC Police Department. Although this department has nearly 200 officers, there was not a functioning chaplaincy to serve officers with crucial services like grief, marriage, personal and professional crisis counseling. First Responders First now offers support to Concord, Gastonia and Charlotte Mecklenburg police officers.
Riding alongside the bike team was a natural extension to Lonnie’s mission: creating a ministry of emotional and spiritual support to first responders, strengthening their personal well-being for work and life. Along with bike riding, Lonnie has performed weddings and funerals and assisted in death notifications, all a part of serving those who serve our communities.
The small bike team’s destination this year would not be the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington which commemorates the lives of over 21,000 officers who have died on duty. Instead, they were riding to the Mooresville Town Hall on Main Street. On the lawn would be 123 police flags standing at attention to honor Officer Sheldon’s badge number: 123.
As the honorary bike squad approached the Mooresville memorial, they were joined by Olivia Mackel, teenage daughter of Sgt. Mackel who rode alongside her dad for ten miles. Olivia posed with her dad in front of the flags, no doubt proud of his service. She may or may not understand the risk he takes every day. The possibility that he, like Officer Smiley, may not come home one night. Many of us, never fully appreciate the daily risks officer take either. But each of us today, can honor and say thank you to all those who have died and all those who continue to serve as frontline heroes.
Want to help?
Say thank you (and send up a prayer) to all those wearing a uniform to protect us not only in this pandemic but every day.
Make a donation to First Responders First to help offer counseling and support service for officers and families here