By Kat Russell
The Paducah Sun
“These two men were heroes in the true sense of the word, not just because of how they died, but because of how they lived their lives. They lived lives of public service, direction and sacrifice. They lived lives of purpose, and they will never be forgotten.”
Kentucky State Police Post 1 Commander Janet Barnett spoke those words Monday during the unveiling of a memorial honoring the fallen troopers at the post near Mayfield.
Troopers Eric Chrisman and Joseph Cameron Ponder were killed last year in the line of duty.
Chrisman was killed June 23 in a car crash while responding to a reckless driving complaint on U.S. 62 in Livingston County. Ponder was shot and killed Sept. 13 during a traffic stop on Interstate 24 in Lyon County.
On Monday, the troopers’ families gathered with Post 1 troopers and officers from across the commonwealth to remember Chrisman and Ponder and unveil a memorial dedicated to their sacrifices.
The two-part memorial, which was placed just to the left of Post 1’s front door, is composed of a stone monument, bearing the troopers’ names, and an intricate black metal fire pit composed of panels designed with the KSP logo.
During the ceremony, members of the troopers’ families said a few words, thanking KSP and local law enforcement for their support and their service.
Speaking through stifled sobs, Ponder’s fianceé, Chrystal Coleman, spoke on behalf of the Ponder family.
Coleman spoke of the love and support KSP, local law enforcement and communities across the region have shown her and the Ponder family and expressed profound gratitude.
“Having the gray family, and law enforcement in general, constantly behind us has meant the world and has gotten us through so many terrible moments.
“I can’t tell each and every one of you enough how much you are loved and how much we are grateful for you and how much we will always, always, always stand behind you.
“You guys are family, always and forever. Thank you so much for everything you do and for putting your lives on the line every single day for us.”
Chrisman’s father, Randy Chrisman, spoke next, also offering his thanks to those who have rallied to show their support.
His voice brimming with emotion, Randy Chrisman read from a piece of paper found on a desk in Trooper Chrisman’s duplex after he died.
It is believed Chrisman wrote the words in the week before his death, the father said.
“It has some simple words but if we all live by them, they’re very powerful,” Randy Chrisman said.
“And it said: ‘I will protect those that need protection, serve those in need, show compassion, stand up to bullies, be the best I can at everything (and) never give less than my all. My God is first, family second and everyone is family.'”
“It’s hard to believe that we’re just 17 days away from the date that happened. In some ways it seems like it’s been forever and in some ways it seems like it’s gone by really fast. On the 20th it will be a year since the day that I last hugged Eric. He patted me on the back and said ‘Love you Pops,’ and it’s tough. I miss him. I miss him a lot.”
Following the families’ words, relatives of the fallen troopers pulled the covers off the monuments and embraced one another as they read the inscriptions.
The final speaker was KSP Deputy Commissioner Alex Payne, who was asked to read the official accounts regarding the troopers’ deaths. Instead, as Payne stood at the podium, he crumpled up the paper he was to read from and spoke of the troopers’ devotion to KSP and desire to serve.
“We all know how they passed,” he said. “What’s more important, and what I hope becomes of these monuments to everybody that passes these doors (and) to everybody that pulls into this parking lot, is to know not only how these young men passed, but more importantly how they lived. They held the line; the line that men and women in uniform hold daily, that line between order and chaos.”
After the service, Post 1 spokesman Trooper Michael Robichaud spoke of the bond KSP officers share.
“We are truly a brotherhood,” he said. “We are a fraternity, every single one of us. If anybody ever needs anything we are there. And those are the qualities that Troopers Chrisman and Ponder embodied. That was who they were and that was how they lived.”