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Heroes of July 7 get their due in a day full of memorials for ambush victims

T.J. Cline (left) hugs his mother, women's basketball legend Nancy Lieberman, as the ribbons are cut Friday on two basketball Dallas Dream Courts at Kiest Park made possible by Nancy Lieberman Charities.  (Ashley Landis/Staff Photographer) T.J. Cline (left) hugs his mother, women's basketball legend Nancy Lieberman, as the ribbons are cut Friday on two basketball Dallas Dream Courts at Kiest Park made possible by Nancy Lieberman Charities. (Ashley Landis/Staff Photographer)
PUBLISHED July 7, 2017 | News

The Dallas police honor guard marched into City Hall Plaza Friday night, carrying the U.S. Honor Flag in memory of the five police officers killed in an ambush attack downtown last year.

The somber ceremony, Tribute 7/7, included a march through downtown that ended at the Dallas Police Memorial. More than 200 people attended the event, one of several that honored those who gave their lives — and saved lives — on July 7, 2016.

The crowd, holding blue lights, gathered on the lawn in front of the memorial shortly before 8:58 p.m., the time the first shots were fired in the attack last year.

“The words ‘shots fired, shots fired’ are the last words any officer wants to hear, but those were the words repeated,” Dallas police Sgt. Willie Ford said of the deadly ambush.

He thanked the crowd for their support but said that the officers who protected protesters last year were always heroes. It didn’t take a tragedy for them to become so.

“Unfortunately they were just given the opportunity to show the world what heroes look like,” Ford said.

The honor flag will fly in Dallas until Tuesday, for a total of 91 hours. Each hour represents a year served in the military or law enforcement by the slain officers. Dallas police officers will guard the flag for 78 hours, Dallas Area Rapid Transit officers for 13.

Slain officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Patrick Zamarripa of the Dallas Police Department and Brent Thompson, an officer for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, were the focus of an outpouring of sorrow and gratitude on the first anniversary of the ambush.

Faith Forward Dallas began the day’s events with a prayer service. The coalition of local faith leaders started offering reflections about 10 a.m. at Thanks-Giving Square.

In attendance were Dallas officers, elected officials and Odell Edwards, father of Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old who was fatally shot by a Balch Springs police officer earlier this year.

Imam Omar Suleiman, a bilingual professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University, opened the event by calling to mind why protesters had gathered last July 7 following the deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge.

“When someone becomes violent and decides that it’s their right to take the life of someone else, it doesn’t matter what faith they profess or claim to profess at that point,” Suleiman said. “It doesn’t matter what skin color they have. It doesn’t matter what they’re wearing. At that point, we stand against them, and we stand with their victims.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins recalled seeing “grace under fire” as officers ushered him safely into City Hall when the shots rang out.

“The actions of one lone assailant brought two diametrically opposed forces — peaceful protest and violence — together in one instant,” Jenkins said. “Still, in this terrible moment, we saw such grace.”

Dallas police Sgt. Dan Mosher then took the microphone to say a prayer.

“We thank you so much that you created us equal but different and that we are all one people on this earth,” Mosher said. “I pray that as we move forward, we would celebrate our differences and learn to love one another.”

He then hugged Odell Edwards, Jordan’s father.

El Centro College hosted a separate ceremony, focused on renewal, at the Student Center at Main and South Market streets, near where the shooting started a year ago.

The shooter, Micah X. Johnson, gunned officers down just outside and inside the campus. Johnson then holed up in a second-floor hallway, where police tried for hours to negotiate with him before sending in a bomb-wielding robot that killed him.

City Council member Adam McGough, who is a program coordinator at the college, said he didn’t have a class that day. He didn’t realize Johnson was in the El Centro building until he’d gotten downtown for the first press conference.

“I think about it a lot. … It’s something that we live and relive every time we walk these streets,” he said.

The college unveiled a student-made art installation Friday.  Paper tree branches decorated a room in the student center and appeared between photos of police officers from that day. Photos were also projected on a white, miniature forest at the front of the room.

Student artist Stephanie Johnson said she had been inspired by the birch tree, which represents resilience and renewal. Students were asked to submit photos that defined what El Centro meant to them, and an overwhelming number submitted photos of police officers, she said.

“I think that more people were wanting to show love to officers,” Johnson said. “That really steered what we have here.”

John Abbott, an officer who was wounded that night when the glass doors of the college exploded from gunfire, attended the El Centro event. He said he was proud of the strength of Dallas and asked residents to remember that “perception is not always reality.”

“Wait for us to do our jobs. Let us do what we need to do,” he said. “Talk to us before you start doing what this guy did.”

Across town, at Kiest Park in central Oak Cliff, basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman and her charity unveiled two new basketball courts, or Dream Courts, in Kiest Park.

Lieberman was moved to donate the courts to Dallas after the ambush. Her mission to bring cops together with young people dovetails with former Police Chief David Brown’s support for community policing. 

“You are bringing young people together with police officers when there is no crisis,” Brown told her.

Brown, who retired in October, was back in his native Oak Cliff on Friday to praise Lieberman and help open the courts.

“This community won’t be the same after Nancy Lieberman touched it,” he said.

The Kiest Park courts are the third and fourth Dream Courts in Dallas (and Nos. 36 and 37 nationwide). They came to fruition after an emotional Lieberman reached out to Brown to ask what she could do to help.

“A discussion became a dream,” she said. “A dream became a reality.”

Five oak trees will be planted in Kiest Park near the Dream Courts in memory of Ahrens, Krol, Smith, Zamarripa and Thompson.

Also Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott called on the state to stand with law enforcement. All officers were asked to turn on their red and blue lights for a minute at 10 a.m.

The governor spoke Friday at San Antonio Police Officer Miguel Moreno’s funeral. Moreno was fatally shot last week.

“Respect for our law enforcement officials must be restored in this nation,” Abbott said in a written statement. “It is our officers who stand between us and all that threatens, and we must stand behind them by sending a clear message that attacks on our men and women in blue will not be tolerated. I ask that all Texans come together to show our appreciation for those who keep us safe.”

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said the somber day should be a moment for residents to reflect on the officers’ shared sacrifice.

“May today serve as a reminder to renew our commitment to standing united as a community and strengthening the bonds that tie us together as citizens of Dallas County,” she said.

Two ceremonies honoring the actions of officers in the ambush took place Thursday.

Officers in uniform filed into American Airlines Center in the evening, some with families in tow, for the “Night of Honor” awards ceremony and banquet.

The words “Thank you for your service” scrolled across the video crawl around the upper deck of the stadium, less than a mile from where a gunman killed five policemen patrolling a downtown protest.

Interim Police Chief  David Pughes addressed the crowd, but the families of the fallen and the heroes who survived that night were the guests of honor.

Before his speech, Pughes couldn’t think of a word to describe officers’ actions as they rushed headlong into gunfire. “Bravery” and “courage” don’t do it justice, he said.

“What would possess an officer to be that valiant?” Pughes said. “I struggled and realized there were no words that describe your actions that evening. Your actions speak for themselves.”

Pughes noted that the killer still had 80 rounds of ammunition when he died.

“Think about what you did that night to prevent the worst outcome,” the chief said. “Each and every one of you did that. God called all of us to be Dallas police officers, and I am extremely proud.”

Fourteen officers were awarded the department’s Medal of Honor, joining just 28 others who have received the award since it was established in 1952. There were also 37 Medals of Valor awarded and 57 Meritorious Conduct awards.

Among the officers awarded the Police Shield was Gretchen Rocha, a rookie cop who was hit with shrapnel during the ambush. Despite her wounds, she grabbed Krol off the street, pulling him into her squad car to rush him to the hospital.

Some of the officers in attendance wore a memorial on their chests: a new Dallas police badge featuring five stars for each of the men killed with their names engraved on the back.

Families of the fallen also received Police Crosses honoring their sacrifice.

A more traditional memorial was unveiled hours earlier, when the officers’ families joined community members for the dedication of the new “Dallas Circle of Heroes.”

The memorial, off the Trinity Strand Trail in the Stemmons Corridor, features six plaques mounted on stones that form a circle around a flagpole.

One plaque tells of the tragedy of the ambush. The other five name the four Dallas officers and one DART officer who were killed.

The memorial was donated by Mike Morgan and Jim Lake Jr., partners in the Jim Lake Co., a commercial real estate firm.

Dallas Assistant Chief Christina Smith said it was the perfect ceremony to begin the series of events that will commemorate the first anniversary of the July 7 shooting.

“This is not a DPD event,” she said. “This is somebody in the community that really wanted to do something for our officers. That’s what makes it so special to me.”

Smith added, “This shows how most of the community really feels about us: that they love us and support us.”

Morgan said the memorial is meant to be “all about the guys.”

“They’re individuals,” said Morgan, an Air Force veteran. “Once that uniform comes off, they’re no different than you and I. And people need more of that. Just because he has a gun strapped on, he still has the same heart, the same mental capacities and everything that you and I do. But his profession is serving us.”

The morning ceremony included music from the Dallas Police Choir, remarks from Pughes and DART Police Chief James Spiller, and an invocation from Dallas police chaplain Rayford Butler.

Valerie Zamarripa, mother of Patrick Zamarripa, attended the ceremony and said it was “truly an honor.”

“I hate that we’re here for this and that it had to be done for them. But hopefully, as a circle, maybe we can get some peace and unity in the communities — both Dallas and Fort Worth and all around the country. That’s what we need now,” she said.

“We need to quit fighting and hating and just being ugly toward each other. Have respect for one another. Let’s try to love each other. No matter who you are, what you are.”

Zamarripa likes that the memorial is right off the trail, and said she thinks people will take the time to stop and read about the officers as they pass by.

The symbolism of the circular memorial spoke to both Zamarripa and Smith, the deputy chief.

To Smith, the circle means that “we are never-ending.”

“We are here to protect the citizens — protect the city of Dallas — and there is no break in us,” she said. “We are a circle. We are a family. And that’s what that symbolizes for me.”