October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Lassen Family Services held its annual wreath dedication ceremony that honors fallen law enforcement officers at noon Wednesday, Oct. 11 on the lawn at the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office.
Wreaths were hung in remembrance of Lassen County Sheriff’s Deputy Larry Griffith, Susanville Police Officer Rob McElrath and Modoc County Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Hopkins.
Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon presented Griffith’s wreath, Susanville Police Chief John King presented McElrath’s wreath and Modoc County Sheriff Mike Poindexter presented Hopkins’ wreath.
Peter Celum, executive director of Lassen Family Services welcomed a crowd of nearly 100 to the ceremony, and he also delivered the closing remarks.
Pastor Gerry Vanderwende presented the invocation and the benediction, Emily Vorlicky sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and a color guard raised the American flag and then lowered it to half-mast near the beginning of the ceremony.
“We’re here today to honor the memory and honor the loss of three beloved members of law enforcement,” Celum said. “We’re gathered today to honor our local fallen heroes of law enforcement. We’re gathered today to remember their ultimate sacrifice as they courageously served their communities. Gone, but never forgotten. Our fallen heroes are always with us — in our hearts and in our memories. These brave men will live in our hearts forever as examples of the best our communities have to offer.”
“We’re here today to increase awareness of domestic violence and honor three of our brothers who were taken in domestic violence incidents,” Growdon said. “Domestic violence knows no social or economic boundaries. It exists in all segments of our population, and no one is exempt from its influence. Relationships should be based on love and respect rather than intimidation and abuse. It is incumbent on each of us to do our part in combating domestic violence, and I’m happy and proud that we as a community are standing together to fight it.”
Growdon told the story of how Griffith was shot and killed while trying to contact a suspect in a domestic violence call in the desert east of Ravendale on March 2, 1995. Growdon said three deputies were fired upon as the exited their vehicles, and Griffith was fatally wounded.
“Larry was always more concerned about family and friends than himself,” Growdon said of the deputy who started working for Lassen County in 1984. “He chose the law enforcement profession out of a strong desire to help people. He ultimately lost his life while trying to help protect someone who could not protect herself.”
King said he never met McElrath, but he had heard many good things about him and his stellar reputation among law enforcement officers and the community.
He said McElrath wanted to be two things — a grandfather and retired — but instead he became a martyr to domestic violence.
“He was loved by everyone,” King said. “He was murdered in a domestic violence relationship.”
King said while many in the community knew of McElrath’s struggles with domestic violence, no one knew how to help him. He said it’s up to each of us to speak up and do our part to end domestic violence.
Poindexter honored Hopkins, who died about a year ago in Modoc County responding to a domestic violence call.
“Jack was a great kid, and every single day I remember Jack’s great smile. I miss him, and I wish we had him back,” Poindexter said. “This line of work and the world we live in today is just crazy. I’ve been doing this almost 40 years, and it’s always been the hard time. It’s always been a tough job. I guess most of us who do it don’t consider it a job. It’s more of a calling. Jack didn’t get the opportunity to experience nearly as much of that as he should have.”