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Friday, June 14, 2024

Marion County honors fallen law enforcement officers with ceremony

Law enforcement officers, officials and area residents from throughout Marion County came together Thursday to memorialize those who gave their lives to protect their fellow citizens and the communities they served.

Attorney General Ashley Moody
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody

The Fallen Officer Ceremony, which was held in the County Commission Chamber, featured officials such as Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods, Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken and dozens of law enforcement officers, government officials, and others from throughout Marion County and its municipalities. The audience also included the families of several fallen officers who came to remember their loved ones’ sacrifice.

The ceremony also included a presentation of colors by the Ocala Police Department Honor Guard, a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps,” as well as a performance of “Amazing Grace” by a children’s choir from Ocala Christian Academy.

Moody said Florida tragically leads the nation in law enforcement line-of-duty deaths. However, despite the sadness and loss, she said the memorial was also inspiring “because despite those harrowing statistics, I am looking right now at men and women who are here serving with pride, with vigor, with passion, with a badge, knowing those risks.”

Moody’s husband, Justin Duralia, began his career as a municipal police officer and currently serves as a federal drug enforcement agent. She said “there are moments… where I fear the worst has happened. And I understand that every loved one here has felt that.” But she said without people willing to take that risk, “the rule of law would be meaningless.”

Also in attendance at the ceremony was Marion County Commission Chairman Jeff Gold, who served with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department for more than 30 years.

“I worked closely with several officers who have been killed in the line of duty, like Brian Litz,” Gold said. “He and I trained our K-9 partners together and worked as patrol deputies.”

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods 1
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods
Fallen Officer Memorial in Marion County 2
A wreath honored the fallen law enforcement officers from Marion County during Thursday’s ceremony.

Litz was a Marion County Sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2004. In 2016, the sheriff’s office’s southwest district office was named in his honor.
Gold said everyone in law enforcement understands the risks.

“We have that knowledge and expectation that, if necessary, we’ll give our lives for the citizens we’re protecting or for our fellow officers,” he said. “This yearly memorial is tough for all of us, but it shows our never-ending respect for all these officers and their families.”

Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken also spoke at the ceremony and presented some sobering statistics on last year’s especially deadly year.

“During 2020, we lost 362 peace officers from across the United States – 18 of those in Florida,” he said. “This year, we’ve already lost 124 from our ranks. As we honor those heroes here today, we also mourn their loved ones, who they were torn away from way too early.”

Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken
Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken

Balken spoke directly to the families of those fallen officers, ensuring them that “we think of (them) often, and we remember the sacrifice you have made by sharing your loved ones with us.”

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods closed the ceremony with a message of hope.

“We cannot forget the sacrifices of those that came before us and those that will be ahead of us,” he said. “We will never allow evil to give us a tarnish upon the badges or the stars we wear. We are the force of good to push back on evil in the world of today. And their sacrifices are the clear evidence that law enforcement is not evil.”

The fallen officers from Marion County include:

  • Burrel Dawkins – 1881
  • Bill Hudson – 1908
  • Bill Hutson – 1910
  • Perry Bostick – 1924
  • Henry Gordon – 1924
  • A.O. Warren – 1926
  • Nathan Hattaway – 1930
  • Edward Porter Jr. – 1951
  • M.W. Tuck – 1955
  • R.L. Wooten – 1955
  • Curtis Youngblood – 1955
  • C.M. Starry – 1958
  • Bill Rutherford – 1990
  • Brian R. Litz – 2004
  • Chelsea Richard – 2014
  • Jared Forsyth – 2015