Those who knew Seara Burton say she cared about children, history and the north side Richmond neighborhood she patrolled.
Thus, Wayne County Historical Museum staff say they are honored to open a new permanent exhibit honoring the late Richmond Police Department K9 officer and her contributions to the community.
The display, called “Seara Burton Legacy Exhibit: Service Before Self,” debuts at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 12 in the Richmond museum’s Community Room.
The opening takes place shortly after the one-year anniversary of Burton being wounded in the 200 block of North 12th Street, just around the corner from the museum.
Burton, 28, was responding to a traffic stop with her K9 partner, Brev, on the evening of Aug. 10. She died Sept. 18 from her injuries.
Karen Shank-Chapman, WCHM executive director, envisions the museum’s display being meaningful to various audiences for years to come.
She said she believes the educational display will help children on field trips learn about the county’s first female K9 officer as part of local history, and that Burton would be proud if the exhibit inspires some to consider a law enforcement career.
The WCHM leader also takes comfort in the memory-filled room being a place where Burton’s law enforcement colleagues, family, friends and concerned residents can reflect and remember her life, and potentially be a tool for healing.
A private reception is being scheduled for Burton’s family and RPD to view the exhibit and reminisce. Shank-Chapman said she is grateful for both groups’ support of the project, along with the Wayne County Foundation.
“The exhibit focuses on Seara’s service but also celebrates her for who she was and what she stood for,” Shank-Chapman said.
Although the contents of the exhibit are still being finalized, personal mementos representing the Northeastern High School graduate’s deep local ties are to be featured.
Spencer Benner, who serves as the museum’s exhibits and facility assistant, noted the many lives Burton touched. One of those is his sister, Taylor Benner, who was a classmate of Burton’s.
“It’s sad, but at the same time you see how much she touched the community,” Benner said about the upcoming display. “She was able to be a huge part of this community in ways beyond any of us can comprehend.”
Museum staff were shocked by the loss of Burton after becoming acquainted during her patrols. They called her a staple of the neighborhood.
“She really cared about people, and she was just a good person,” Shank-Chapman said. “She went beyond the badge. She really truly loved her community.”
Shank-Chapman wants the exhibit to show Burton’s caring spirit and how Wayne County came together to honor her and rally around her family.
One of the many examples of Burton’s quiet impact came to light during her funeral and likely will be acknowledged in the exhibit.
After word spread about Burton’s injury, some members of Richmond’s homeless community pooled $8 for Burton’s family. One representative delivered an envelope containing $1 bills to police headquarters, sharing appreciation for the visits Burton made to check on them. The heartfelt gift came “From the people of the streets.”
That example of Burton’s thoughtfulness was broadly shared as part of funeral coverage by local, state and national media. It also led to several volunteers gathering supplies such as tents, sleeping bags and canned foods and distributing them. Those efforts are still ongoing.
The display also will include Burton’s RPD vehicle and some of the items that residents placed on Richmond Municipal Building’s lawn as well wishes and tributes in the days after Burton’s injury and eventual death.
The spotlight on Burton’s “Service Before Self” ties into the museum’s plans for a broader exhibit saluting various first responders, ranging from police and firefighters to emergency medical workers and Red Cross volunteers.
The first responder exhibit is scheduled to open in June 2024 in conjunction with WCHM’s signature event and help build toward the museum’s 2030 centennial celebration.
Former or current first responders who are willing to be interviewed about their experiences or share other historical information are encouraged to contact museum staff.
Richmond officials are planning a community prayer vigil at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, to remember Burton. That event will take place outdoors on the south steps of the Richmond Municipal Building, 50 North 5th Street. A release Monday announcing the event said, “we invite all members of the community to join us in honoring Officer Burton’s memory. Her dedication to her duty, her love for her community, and her bravery in the face of danger are inspirations to us all.”
The Seara Burton Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary No. 63 will conduct the 140 Challenge in Burton’s honor at 9 a.m. Sept. 23 in Glen Miller Park.
The challenge involves a 5K and a fitness challenge that consists of four body weight workouts for Burton’s four years of service and 140 repetitions of each workout for her badge number. It includes sit ups, squats, push ups and lunges.
Cost is $30 for a virtual 5K, $30 for the 5K and $35 for the 5K and the fitness challenge. Registrations are accepted at https://runsignup.com/Race/Register/?raceId=149298&eventId=737461 through Sept. 1. Event T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies are also being sold at https://140challengemerchandise.itemorder.com/shop/home/.
Proceeds will establish a scholarship fund in Burton’s honor.
Reid Health this year already initiated the Officer Seara Burton and Brev Law Enforcement Scholarship, awarding it to Centerville graduate Elly Waters. The endowed scholarship through the Wayne County Foundation is for a Wayne County high school senior planning to pursue a degree or certificate in law enforcement or first response.
The Indiana legislature this year also passed a resolution recommending the Indiana Department of Transportation rename the U.S. 27 bridge over Interstate 70 the Officer Seara Burton Memorial Bridge.
Lee trial set for 2025
Phillip Matthew Lee, 48, is charged with shooting Burton and firing at two other officers.
His Circuit Court trial is scheduled for 10 weeks beginning Feb. 10, 2025. He is charged with murder in Burton’s death and two counts of Level 1 felony attempted murder, plus other felonies related to firearms and drugs. He is also accused of being a habitual offender.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is seeking the death penalty should Lee be convicted.
Lee remains in the Pendleton Correctional Facility, according to Indiana Department of Correction records. He is serving a two-year sentence for violating his parole from a 2018 conviction for Level 6 felony possession of a syringe.
If you go
- What: “Seara Burton Legacy Exhibit: Service Before Self,” honoring late RPD K9 Officer Seara Burton
- When: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon-4 p.m. Saturdays starting Sept. 12
- Where: Wayne County Historical Museum, 1150 N. A St., Richmond
- Cost: $8 adults; $6 seniors, veterans and active military; $5 ages 6-17.
- Info: 765-962-5756 or wchmuseum.org
Updated Tuesday Aug. 8 at 11 a.m. to reflect the latest available information about the Sept. 8 vigil being planned by the City of Richmond.
A version of this article appeared in the August 9 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.