Honoring a fallen hero.

“It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” —Vivian Eney Cross, Survivor

I wanted to take a moment to share final thoughts and photos now that Deputy Coates’ memorial services have ended. It was an honor to be a part of the services held to honor Deputy Coates. For the last two days I have been alongside Jason, his squad and their spouses. For a good part of both days I certainly felt apprehensive to take photos but there were many times it was encouraged and hopefully the photos I have taken have helped capture the honor, respect, and dignity of Deputy Coates’ memorial services.

The last week has been incredibly tough for our family and many others as we’ve mourned the loss of a man Jason worked alongside every night. I’m sure all his squad is drained after the last week where they’ve spent so much time preparing for the services held the last two days. Most of the waking moments Jason has been away alongside his squad as they’ve stood beside Brandon since his death, have been in meetings & debriefings, and have prepared for the memorial services. Anytime they haven’t been in work related meetings his squad has gathered to much needed time together which undoubtedly has helped in grieving the loss of a close friend and co-worker. There’s no doubt Brandon has pulled his squad closer together than ever before.

But Brandon did more than just that, he pulled a community together as thousands who attended his funeral and many more observed in on TV or online. I don’t think there is a single person who made it through that funeral who was able to sit through the ceremony without shedding at least one tear. For me it was not only that moment of remembering a man who sacrificed his own life, but it was a reminder that this could have happened to any deputy, including my own husband. I try not to dwell on those thoughts often, but being in a funeral certainly was a reminder of me wondering “what if…” — and now I’ll just continue to pray for Deputy Coates family…and the families of all law enforcement that they are kept safe from senseless crimes like the one Brandon was killed in.

I rode with Jason in his patrol car during the police processional. His squad followed directly behind Deputy Coates’ family. It was an amazing experience that I’ll certainly never forget. I’m sure many in the Orlando area witnessed it on TV or were sitting in traffic during the processional, but riding directly within it helped me see just how much this has impacted our community. Police and firefighters from surrounding areas were lined up along the route standing in honor and saluting. Onlookers were gathered on the side of the route observing, taking photos and video. Many people stopped on the side of the road and exited their vehicles to observe the processional. Citizens were seen bearing flags, signs, and saluting or holding their hands over their hearts. Entire families were gathered doing the same. Veterans stood saluting and holding flags to pay their respects. It was absolutely amazing to see how many people took time out of their day to stop and show their appreciation for Deputy Coates. I was told the processional was very long. Traffic was stopped along the entire route. We were near the front of the processional and once we arrived at the cemetery in Winter Park I was told that there were still cars waiting to join the processional from the Church located on the west side of Orlando.

The most moving events took place at the cemetery. Hundreds, possibly thousands of police officers and marines were lined up in formation to honor Deputy Coates during the memorial service held at the cemetary. When I first arrived I had my camera out knowing I would be permitted to take photos, however, I was quickly stopped by someone who assumed I was a part of the media. As that made me more apprehensive that I’d be stopped any time I took photos I was thankful that Jason offered me his deputy jacket and a deputy introduced me to those in charge of the funeral who gave me permission to photograph the funeral from some of the most amazing views in the cemetery. There was a 21 gun salute. The police helicopters flew overhead in a fallen officer formation. Deputy Coates’ family was given the American flags from the ceremony and a gift from his squad. Taps was played by a marine. Amazing grace was played by the bag pipe players. Doves were released. There was  10-7 dispatcher call that I was told it was played on all deputy radios as well – the call notified the audience that Deputy Coates was 10-7, meaning out of service or that his shift had ended. It is the moment in a funeral that puts chills down any police officers back. It all seemed to pass so quickly and suddenly the service ended. As we greeted our spouses after the ceremony we passed hundreds of police officers, the eyes of every single deputy I passed were filled with tears. Many continued to embrace and comfort one another. After the service ended many continued to approach Deputy Coates’ casket to pay their final respects. It was incredibly moving to see just how much this man has moved us all…he will surely be missed but definitely will never be forgotten.

Rather than giving my detailed memories with each photo I felt it would be easiest to share a slideshow of the last two days services. It begins with the two mourning badge images I had taken a few days ago. I didn’t quite realize a few days ago the impact it’d make when I took the first photo. I thought it would be a good way to help remember Brandon and I’ve quickly learned the impact it has made on law enforcement officers. Both images have become a way of remembering Brandon. I imagine these two images will be the image deputies use if God forbid another deputy is ever lost again. The photos that follow are from both the day of the visitation services and followed by the funeral and services at the cemetary. Hopefully they help give you all a glimpse of just how much Brandon has moved our community.

Our prayers go out to Deputy Coates’ family and all law enforcement who are mourning, yet continue risk their own lives to serve our community.

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