HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville Police and the community they serve came together Thursday to honor the ten fallen officers HPD has lost since the department began. It's also meant to love those the fallen officers left behind.
From a 21-gun salute, to a placement of a wreath and the reading of names, it was a tribute made with the utmost respect. They wouldn't have it any other way.
"This is tremendously important to these families," said Chief Mark McMurray. "This is their support mechanism."
For those who lost someone in the line of duty, the healing goes on. It may never end, especially if you know they were killed without mercy.
It's clear the Goldens are still feeling the loss of their son. Daniel Golden was killed in 2005. He responded to a domestic call August 29, 2005 at El Jalisco restaurant on Jordan Lane. A man named Benito Albarran worked at the restaurant at the time and shot Golden several times, killing him. Albarran later ended his own life on death row in prison.
HPD can not bring Daniel Golden back to his family, but after 11 years they can give something long missed: his service weapon.
Thursday, during the memorial, the honor guard gave the Goldens Daniel's pistol and handcuffs in a special box. It's a moment long overdue: a part of Daniel, finally returning home.
"That property has to be released through the criminal justice system," said McMurray. "The District Attorney called my office this year and told me he was through. The prosecution of the case is finalized, and he had some property to return. I talked to the Mayor, and we all agreed this weapon had been retired."
He added, "I think it's a great opportunity for us to show that we, even ten years later, we're still remembering Daniel Golden."
The Goldens politely declined an interview. They were too emotional to speak. But we spoke to Sgt. Tim Clardy, one of those who handed them the box of memories.
"It's an honor," said Clardy, who is the supervisor of the Honor Guard. "It's a real honor."
He knows the strength of the moment he and the Goldens shared, and says it's because they are all part of the same law enforcement family.
"We've all become a little closer to the Golden family, Mr. and Mrs. Golden and his brother David, over the years," said Clardy. "We stay in touch. Sometimes we text, talk on the phone. They've invited us up several times to their farm. It's just an honor for us, and just about everybody from our academy was here today. Like we always do, we come together and they showed up today."
Clardy said serving on the honor guard is a privilege.
"It's all out of honor," he said. "Someone gives their life, and we can practice, shine our stuff up, try to be as sharp as possible. And to me, that's the least we can do to try to honor the officer and their family."
Another officer honored at the memorial is Eric Freeman. His wife, Leslie, misses him every day. She said the law enforcement family enveloped her in love and support, too.
While coming to these memorials can be hard, we asked her what keeps her coming back.
"These men and women who put the badge on, that's what gives me strength," she said. "They saw, they know. They have participated in these events just like I have. But they are willing every day. They kiss their families goodbye and say, 'I'll see you later.' And they hope and pray they will."
Freeman is taking on a new role to say "thank you" and continue to help serve the community her husband died protecting.
"It's my version of therapy to give back," she said, "It makes me feel better."
She is now program director of the Huntsville Police Citizens Foundation, which worked to erect the memorial outside police headquarters and continues to raise funds to assist families of the fallen.
"I was on the other side of this. I received a helping hand from this foundation, and the guidance," she said. "When I didn't know which way to go there were people who stepped up and said, 'Here, let me hold your hand. Let's walk together.'"
She hopes she can use her experience grieving an officer, to help someone else.
"If I can maybe just hold the hand of somebody, but maybe it wasn't completely all in vain," she said.
Freeman hopes to start more fundraisers for the foundation soon.
"I want this community to be prepared to step up and say to our officers, 'We've got you. We've got your families covered, we're here for you. We are going to stand in that gap.'"