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“Do you know where the pipers are tuning?”
“The hearse is going to be right here.”
“We are saluting with the casket."
In the morning chill of Jan. 5, in the sprawling parking lot of Cherry Hills Community Church, preparations for Douglas County Sheriff Deputy Zackari Parrish’s final goodbye are underway.
Small American flags line the church entrance. A large flag, held aloft by two fire truck ladders, waves overhead in the breeze. Honor Guard members from various law enforcement agencies, in black and blue dress uniforms, form a corridor under the entrance breezeway. And the bagpipers rush to rehearse just one more time.
“This is what we do,” Thomas Rogers says.
“Unfortunately,” Mike DeBoer adds, “we practice all year for these events, to make sure we’re sharp and we sound good.”
The firefighters, both from South Metro Fire Rescue, are part of the Colorado Emerald Society, a bagpipe and drum band of police, firefighters and emergency medical responders who play to honor officers killed in the line of duty.
“It’s hard, it’s sad, we never want to do this,” Rogers says. “But it’s an honor to do it, to do this for Deputy Parrish and his family.”
Parrish, 29, a father of two young daughters, died New Year’s Eve morning, killed while responding to a domestic disturbance by a man that law enforcement suggests was mentally ill and who was later killed by a SWAT team.
Five days later, hundreds of men and women in blue from throughout the state and as far away as New York, Illinois and Oregon convened at the Highlands Ranch church to bid farewell to Parrish and take care of his family in a carefully choreographed and synchronized ceremony suffused with reverence for the deputy and the job he did — of serving the community, of instilling order when needed, of protecting it at all costs.
“When one of us falls, we all try to rise up and support our fallen’s family members,” Sgt. Jeremiah Carrigan explained quietly before the service, white gloves tucked into the belt of his dress uniform. “His loss isn’t just felt by the local community — it’s statewide, nationwide.”
Carrigan knows firsthand about that loss — and support.
His brother, Nate Carrigan, was the Park County deputy killed in February 2016 during an attempted eviction. He still can’t talk about it without pausing, drawing breath, composing himself.
He is a member of his Front Range police department’s Honor Guard, which means he attends the funeral services of those killed in the line of duty. He does it without hesitation.
“This is my opportunity to give back some of that support that was shown to my family,” he said, “to show this profession is a brotherhood, a family.”
Pamela Rath understands that sentiment, too. The Trinidad resident is married to a Colorado state trooper, who is also an Honor Guard member. They drove 3 1/2 hours to be there for Parrish’s service, the fifth or sixth service for fallen officers they have attended in the past year-and-a-half.
“As a wife, it’s scary,” she said of the law enforcement profession. “But there is no better place for him to be. It’s a calling, not a job.”
The bagpipers file to the bottom of the driveway. Honor Guard members ready to attention. Quiet descends on the crowd waiting at the church entrance, the only sounds a plane flying overhead, a bird chirping. The sun strains to shine through the clouds.
“Five minutes, five minutes.”
The bagpipes’ lament drifts through the air as the band escorts the hearse up to the church entryway.
Deputies and family members carry a coffin draped in the American flag through the phalanx of Honor Guard members, followed by Parrish’s wife, Gracie, escorted by two officers. Arms slowly rise in salute as the casket passes by.
The men and women there to honor Parrish then fall into a line so long that it takes 1 1/2 hours for them to all get inside.
The patches on their sleeves show they have come from near and far: Golden. Thornton. Chicago. City of New York. Loveland. Sterling. Arapahoe County. Jefferson County. Portland. Adams County. Aspen. Northglenn. Summit County. Denver. Westminster. Larimer County. The U.S. Forest Service. Boulder. Mesa County. More.
A few feet away, Highlands Ranch resident Miguel Gutierrez, 52, sits quietly on the back corner of a fire rescue truck, a small American flag in one hand, a coffee thermos in the other.
“I cannot go inside — the fellow officers get to be first,” Gutierrez says. So he is praying, for Parrish and his family, for Parrish’s law enforcement brethren.
“I have so much respect for the officers,” says Gutierrez, a Mexican immigrant who became a U.S. citizen 15 years ago and who felt he had to be present to honor them all. “They protect my family. They risk their lives.”
He shakes his head, his voice trails off, as he talks of the aching sorrow left behind for Gracie Parrish and her two young daughters.
“It just breaks my heart.”
It breaks all of our hearts.
Reporter Alex DeWind contributed to this story.
Ann Macari Healey writes about people, places and issues of everyday life. An award-winning columnist, she can be reached at ahealey@coloradocommunitymedia or 303-566-4100.
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