Cory Coursen never had an opportunity to get to know his father.
The 18-year-old fought to keep his emotions in check Thursday, speaking at the Lorain County Police Memorial in Wellington.
He described what it was like to piece together information about the late Cpl. Dyke “A.J.” Coursen — a LaGrange police officer and volunteer firefighter who moved to South Carolina to serve as a Beufort County sheriff’s deputy. The elder Coursen and his partner were gunned down on Jan. 8, 2002, while responding to a domestic dispute.
“I’m envious of all those who got to know my dad,” the young man said. “I want that so bad. I just want to talk to him. I want to know all of his likes and his dislikes. I want those dad talks from him.
“I wasn’t able to experience any of that. I graduate from high school in two weeks and my dad won’t be there. It’s just another event on the long list of things he won’t be a part of.”
A sea of blue engulfed Howk Memorial Park to help Coursen work through his grief. Law enforcement officers, their uniforms crisp and backs straight, paid respects to all their brothers and sisters who have laid down their lives for the communities they served.
That number is growing. So far this year, Ohio has mourned the loss of two officers: Eric Joering, 39, and Anthony Morelli, 54, of the Westerfield police department, were gunned down in February while responding to a 911 domestic abuse call.
Nationwide, firearm-related police officer deaths are up 65 percent so far in 2018 compared to the same five-month period last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
“It is despite disrespect and fear that across this county and country officers get up, put on their armor, arrange their defense weapons, kiss their families goodbye, and serve our communities, your communities,” Wellington police chief Tim Barfield said. “Their families wait in fear for their return at the end of their shift. Sometimes, those are long shifts. Every siren heard or telephone ring during that time is met with a little trepidation. That’s something my wife shared with me after 32 years wearing this shield.”
Nineteen Lorain County officers have been killed in the line of duty through the years, as well as five others, including Coursen, who hailed from here but died serving other communities.
Village marshal George Brenner, a Civil War veteran, died in Wellington on July 17, 1883, after being shot just after midnight by an 18-year-old man who had just burglarized a nearby office.
Wellington patrolman Edmund Smith was shot and killed May 4, 1957 near the corner of Barker and Maple Streets while responding to a domestic disturbance.
Keynote speaker A.J. Torres, a three-time Lorain County Trooper of the Year who served with the Ohio State Highway Patrol from 1995 to 2011, read through a list of friends he has lost along the way.
One of those names invoked a reaction that stood out from the rest. It was the name of his best friend, trooper Kenneth Velez of Lorain.
Velez died Sept. 15, 2016, after being hit by a passing car while conducting a traffic stop along I-90 in Lakewood.
That tragic event did not mark the first time Velez had been struck by a driver while on duty, Torres said.
“On Feb. 13, 1991, while taking measurements from a traffic crash on the highway, he was struck by a hit-skip driver,” he said. “Upon returning to work, he requested a transfer closer to home and was assigned to the Elyria post, where he spent the majority of his career.”
Torres’ daughter is traveling to Germany next week to visit Velez’s son, Devin, an Amherst Steele High School graduate serving in the U.S. Air Force.
“The only thing that separated us from being brothers is blood,” Torres said of his departed friend. “My brothers and sisters in blue, remember it is not the uniform that makes the person. It is the person that make the uniform. May we honor and never forget the fallen and strive to live the way they lived so honorably in and out of uniform in our respective communities.”
After the event, Barfield reflected on the silent support that often comes from police families as well as the emotional toll regular law enforcement work can take on them.
“Death is death, and that applies to anyone,” he said. “The point of today is that unlike any other job in the United States, we put on a bullet proof vest and a gun everyday to go to work. That says something. It wasn’t until I left my last job that my wife told me she worried about me every day. We know the risk and understand the risk. Our families have to live with that all the time and they never really say anything.”
The Lorain County Police Memorial has traditionally rotated among the county’s police departments. A new memorial dedicated to fallen police officers and firefighters is planned in front of the Lorain County Historical Courthouse in Elyria and will begin serving as the ceremony’s permanent home in 2019.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.