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July 16, 2011

Hundreds attend vigil for fallen THPD officer

Police Chief Plasse thanks community for support

TERRE HAUTE — Joined in grief but united in spirit, hundreds gathered near the Vigo County Courthouse on Friday night to honor a fallen city guardian.

The crowd converged by the fountain between the Courthouse and Terre Haute City Hall for a vigil to honor fallen Terre Haute Police officer Brent Long. Flags waved at half-staff in a warm wind, and diverse uniforms mixed with T-shirts in the crowd as firefighters joined police, and elected officials stood with citizens.

After the release of blue and black balloons, Mayor Duke Bennett observed the demonstration of unity provided by the attendance.

“This is a pretty amazing turnout,” he said from the steps of city hall. Since Long’s tragic death Monday in the line of duty, the community outpouring of support has been tremendous, he added.

Throughout the week, calls have poured into City Hall as residents have asked how they could help.

“Gatherings like this, they help,” Bennett said, noting that in situations such as this people realize how fragile life is, and remember the value of simple kindness to one another. “The rest of the stuff is just stuff.”

Police Chief John Plasse emotionally thanked the community for its support.

“This has been a very difficult week for our department in particular, and our community as well,” he said, recounting the number of supporters who joined their ranks as Long’s body was taken from the hospital where his organs were donated. Since Monday, community fundraisers have generated more than $26,000 on behalf of the Long family.

“This community that I love amazes me in its generosity and its giving,” Plasse said. “You make me proud to be a resident of Terre Haute. You are amazing. You are awesome. And I could think of no better place to live or to be a police officer.”

Shadow, Long’s K-9 partner who was also wounded while serving with him in Monday’s exchange, will be retired from the department and live with the Long family, he said. Shadow then made a surprise appearance in the company of police officers, walking up to the city hall steps to applause.

Terry Linkletter of the Honey Creek Fire Department recalled that Long’s career in public service began at the age of 18 when he first joined that organization as a firefighter. After moving over to law enforcement, Long came back to the fire station to show off a tattoo of Shadow he’d placed on his back.

“So Shadow would always have his back,” Linkletter recalled. “And he did.”

Event organizer Nataly Icenogle tearfully thanked participants as candles were passed out to the crowd.

“I’m so happy and so sad at the same time to see so many people here,” she said.

As candles were lit, Pastor David Butts said, “Lighting of candles is always a symbol of the presence of God.”

In his 37 years as a minister, Butt said he’s been called to a number of hard situations. “And this is one of those.”

The death of Long is a personal loss for all, because even if residents didn’t know him, he was out in the community protecting them, he said. And now, residents who perhaps never knew him have come to help his family.

“Sometimes words aren’t what’s needed. Sometimes we just need each other,” Butt said.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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