On a sweltering morning amid the first heat wave of the year, Daniell Nielsen dabbed at tears in the corners of her eyes with a tissue as her husband’s name was added to the St. Charles Parish Fallen Heroes Memorial.
Daniell, a resident of Destrehan, is the widow of St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Deputy Brandon Nielsen who, along with Deputy Jeremy Triche, was shot to death in the early morning hours of Aug. 16, 2012. Two other deputies were also grievously injured in the attack for which three suspects are currently on trial and three others have already pled guilty.
In line with tradition, the St. Charles Parish Fraternal Order of Police added the names of Brandon Nielsen and Triche along with a lithograph photo of the two to a marble tile to be inserted in the walkway surrounding the St. Charles Parish Peace Officers Memorial.
Daniell, who had just returned from a memorial in Washington, D.C. where Brandon’s name was placed on a national memorial, said it was important to have a local commemoration.
"It means a lot. St. Charles is where Brandon and I are from," she said.
Daniell said she and the five children Brandon helped her raise will be making trips to the spot.
"It’s just amazing it is so close to us," she said. "I am going to be visiting."
This year marked the 31st year, and the first since the St. John attack, that a ceremony was held to honor fallen heroes.
Speakers for the occasion talked about the ultimate sacrifice law enforcement officers are faced with on a daily basis.
Capt. Pat Yoes, public information officer with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and national board member of the Fraternal Order of Police, said law enforcement officers have to face the potential for death on a daily basis.
"It is difficult to not think about your own mortality doing this job," he said.
Calling law enforcement officers the difference between order and chaos, Yoes said it was important to honor those who paid the ultimate price for the good of the greater community.
"We never forget the fallen and the sacrifice they and their family made and continue to make," he said.
Buddy Boe, chief administrative officer for St. Charles Parish, reiterated Yoes’ statements.
"We the citizens of the parish are thankful for its safety, but that safety doesn’t happen by chance," he said.
Boe is the former chief administrative officer for St. John and wrote a newspaper column on the tragedy shortly after it occurred, which he read to the crowd.
Sheriff Greg Champagne said having the courage to stand in the line of danger is an integral part of being a law enforcement officer.
"You can go out a thousand times and come back unscathed and you can go out once and never come back," he said.
Champagne recounted his relationship with Nielsen, who was a graduate from the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office academy and a former St. Charles Parish deputy, and Triche who attended continuing education courses with him as part of an inter-departmental training agreement between the St. John and St. Charles Sheriffs’ Offices.
In the memory of the officers, Champagne also recited a poem about lives given in public service of the greater good.
Joe Marraccoli, St. Charles Parish Fraternal Order of Police president and St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office technician, reminded the gathered crowd that Nielsen and Triche were just two of 144 law enforcement officers killed nationwide in the line of duty in 2012.
"Every day we come to work may be our last," he said.
Marraccoli presented the marble slap commemorating Nielsen and Triche to Champagne and a plaque with Nielsen’s name was also produced that will hang in the Sheriff’s Office lobby.
St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office Lt. Debbie Johnson closed out the speeches with her thoughts on the incident.
"You either run away from evil or you run towards it," she said. "Four men ran towards it and only two returned at the end of their watch."
Johnson said law enforcement is more of a calling than a profession.
"As children we are afraid of monsters. Our parents try to tell us for years they do not exist," she said. "As police officers we tame monsters every day."
As Champagne played Taps on the trumpet, officers lined up in the Sheriff’s Office parking lot in formation. Some presented the colors and flags of the country and state, others presented a wreath as a line of rifle-carrying members blasted off a 21-gun salute and a bagpiper played a traditional funereal tune.
The family members of fallen officers walked up the aisle to the memorial and pushed a single rose into a flowerbed before moving on. Finally, a horse without a rider was walked up the path signaling an end to the ceremony.
The St. Charles Parish Fallen Hero’s Memorial is located at the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office at 260 Judge Edward Dufresne Parkway in Luling.