First responders from around nation attend K-9 officer’s visitation, funeral
Wayne County eagerly has courted many events to draw visitors over the years for its arts and culture, agriculture and recreation amenities.
However, no one ever wanted U.S. law enforcement officers to visit Richmond for a calling and funeral to mourn one of their own, but some came Sunday from Oregon, Massachusetts, and everywhere in between, including Chicago.
Hundreds of area residents and regional first responders also were among those patiently waiting for hours Sunday afternoon and evening amid windy conditions to remember Richmond Police Department K-9 Officer Seara Burton, the county’s first female K-9 handler.
Officer Richard Storm, representing Portland, Oregon, said it was an honor to come to Indiana, and that words can’t describe the tragedy that Burton’s family has experienced. Portland tries to send a representative to all funerals of U.S. officers killed in the line of duty when possible.
“We can show a little support for our family in blue and that Portland, Oregon, is definitely behind them,” Storm said.
Patrol Officer Reece Black, who works for Framingham (Massachusetts) Police, volunteered to be Boston’s representative for the Brotherhood of the Fallen organization, which covered his travel expenses.
“I’m glad I can come and show support – that’s huge,” Black said.
Some who attended the visitation were from closer to home. Butch Tompkins of Anderson and Ann Roellig of Muncie were among 15 holding flags as members of Indiana Patriot Guard.
“It’s an honor for us to be here,” Tompkins said. “This is what we do.”
Roellig, who has family in Dayton, stopped into Miami Valley Hospital during Burton’s stay to deliver a card for the family and let them know the Patriot Guard was thinking of them.
Officials from Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, Indiana State Police and regional police departments precisely and respectfully coordinated two days of public tributes. Several officers wove through the crowd with their therapy dogs, offering comfort.
State officials unfortunately have had recent practice in making large-scale arrangements to memorialize officers killed in the line of duty. Burton’s critical injury stunned Indiana and Ohio first responders just two days after the funeral for Elwood Officer Noah Shahnavaz, a 24-year-old also fatally shot during a traffic stop.
On Sunday, mourners filed past her flag-draped casket in the rotunda of Richmond Municipal Building, expressed condolences to her family, and saw photos and memorabilia highlighting her 28 years of life that ended Sept. 18. Before the public could stream in, officers participated in a ceremony to retire Burton’s badge number, 140, and her K9-2 name.
An honor guard delivered Burton’s casket Monday morning to Richmond High School’s Tiernan Center, and her funeral began at 11 a.m.
RPD colleagues filed past her casket, followed by other law enforcement officers, as well as a delegation of K-9 handlers and their partners, before seven speakers and musical performances began about 90 minutes later.
Although Burton was known for her skills on Northeastern High School’s basketball court, Richmond Community Schools volunteered the county’s largest indoor venue – also home to basketball – containing about 5,700 bleacher seats for the service.
Stephanie Field of Richmond and her children, Tanner and Kendall, who live outside Cambridge City, have known Burton’s family for years. Stephanie went to high school with Seara’s stepmom, Ami Miller, and Tanner graduated with Burton in the NHS Class of 2012.
“We feel like this is the right thing to do,” Stephanie said. “She made the ultimate sacrifice, and we want to support her family however we can.”
Although Ann Barnhart of Richmond didn’t know Burton, she stopped by to pay her respects.
“It’s just great to see this many people turn out to support the law enforcement and first responders in this community and her family,” Barnhart said.
Area residents have grieved for the loss of Burton, who died nearly six weeks after she was shot in the head while assisting with an Aug. 10 traffic stop.
Her battle inspired many community members to pray earnestly for a miracle, and they continued to pray after police announced that Burton would be removed from life support Sept. 1 because doctors determined she could not recover.
Burton continued to fight for survival as the warrior many called her. She was transported to a hospice facility a couple days later and surrounded by her family, which included visits from K-9 Brev, until her Sept. 18 death.
In a display of solidarity and respect from her law enforcement colleagues, Burton never was left alone since she was wounded. A police officer always guarded her, even throughout the nights at Doan & Mills Funeral Home, where her remains were transported a week earlier.
After Monday’s service at RHS concluded, Burton’s hearse paused in front of her vehicle for a moving end-of-tour dispatch, called a 10-42 in the first responder community, and then went under a 40-foot by 60-foot flag suspended by two fire trucks.
Concerned citizens then gathered along the 73-mile route to watch the procession, which headed about 20 miles per hour, to Crown Hill Cemetery, 700 W. 38th St. in Indianapolis. Police estimated it would take 3 to 3 ½ hours for the first vehicle leaving RHS to arrive at Crown Hill.
The many tributes planned there included a riderless horse, a multi-district pipes and drums band, a performance of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps” and a flag presentation to Burton’s family.
A Thin Blue Line flag was to be carried by an Elwood officer. And, like Shahnavaz, Burton’s resting spot is in the Heroes of Public Safety section.
Officers filed past her casket, placing a white carnation with a red dot to symbolize the blood Burton shed for her community. Her stepmother – and fellow RPD officer – Ami Miller was to place the final carnation and give the final salute before the funeral director’s committal speech.
For those who want to pay a later tribute, Crown Hill is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in September, and from October through March, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Dr. Kathy Platoni, a 40-year U.S. Army veteran, now assists 37 area police departments and six fire departments when needed as a clinical psychologist in Centerville, Ohio.
Platoni has been helping local first responders in the past several weeks with the prolonged grief they’ve been experiencing. She walked through the visitation multiple times as part of groups of first responders.
“The unknowns were an extremely painful process for these folks and her family and friends,” Platoni said.
Platoni said she wishes she would have been able to meet Burton after hearing about her from local officers.
“She was a vibrant, well-loved, admired officer, and to lose her at 28 is a crushing blow,” Platoni said. “She obviously was quite something.”
Platoni encourages those reeling from Burton’s loss to share their feelings with therapists, friends or family as needed.
“One of the things I have tried to teach all my patients is that you have to give rise to your feelings, and if you don’t, they will manifest in one way or another,” Platoni said. “Grief comes in waves and there’s no expiration date. It’s going to come, and there will be 100-foot waves that will still come. … “It’s not meant to be walked alone.”