U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan delivers remarks at Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial
Remarks as delivered:
Good morning. My name is Cole Finegan. I am the United States Attorney for the District of Colorado.
It is an honor today to be here with each of you to commemorate all Colorado Law Enforcement officers who have given their lives in the Line of Duty, dating back 160 years to 1862. We also are here to recognize the 17 officers whose names today will be added to this Memorial. With their addition, we now will have 342 names inscribed forever. We have surviving families with us today from Pueblo to Grand Junction, from Windsor to Antonito, and beyond.
Martin Luther King once noted, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?”
As we gather today, we have no doubts that those we honor did all they could for their fellow citizens. When these men and women—husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers—put on their uniforms and headed out, there were no guarantees that they would return home safely. They did not. There are no guarantees today. And while most move away from danger, from gunfire, from violence, there are those among us who run toward the danger, knowing all too well that they truly are heading into harm’s way.
I marvel at this. Frankly, I don’t know how those brave officers do that, how they summon the courage and will to run toward danger. But we are all grateful that they do that. We owe them our gratitude and our respect. And, for their ultimate sacrifice, we owe them the legacy that we commemorate and underscore here.
Today, I want to talk about these heroes and also about the men and women, the families and friends, that these heroes leave behind when they do make the ultimate sacrifice: when they do die in the line of duty. When I speak of heroes, I am not talking about athletes or celebrities we idolize, or even about the wonderful comic book characters that our children (and some of us adults love): Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman.
No, I am speaking about those brave officers who went into public service, put it all on the line, and made the ultimate sacrifice. And I am speaking about those who continue to put it all the on the line: many of you sitting here today.
Just miles from here, we saw first-hand the heroic actions of two such people last year.
On March 22, 2021, Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley had stopped to help a woman changing a tire. Moments later, he got a call. An active shooter at the King Soopers on Table Mesa Road. He was needed.
Officer Talley arrived, sized up the situation, and ran toward the gunfire. He was the first officer on the scene. As I said before, there are some people so brave that they run toward danger.
In the blink of an eye, Officer Talley was killed by the gunman who killed 9 other innocent people that day. But from the time Officer Talley entered the store and confronted the suspect, no other innocent civilians were hurt. Officer Talley’s Supervisor said, “Eric died a hero, giving his all to save others. He did not die in vain. He answered a call for help in which he knew people were dying. He saved many lives.”
Eric was a man of deep faith, a devout Catholic. At his funeral, a priest observed wisely that Eric’s life was not taken: Eric gave his life.
Eric was devoted to his family and to his faith, and by all accounts, he had a wicked sense of humor. He was kind. He was brave. He will be missed forever by those who knew him and loved him.
Three months after Eric’s murder, on June 21, 2021, Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley responded to a call about a suspicious incident near the Arvada Library. A gunman ambushed Officer Beesley, killing him in an instant. The gunman targeted Officer Beesley because he was a police officer, he was wearing a uniform and a badge. The gunman had expressed a hatred of police officers, and he acted out his hatred by murdering Officer Beesley.
Gordon Beesley was more than a police officer in his community. He was a school resource officer known for taking a compassionate approach with students. In 2015, he began biking to school alongside a 7th grader with a developmental delay. After learning that this boy was interested in bicycles, but his mom didn’t want him riding alone, Officer Beesley — Gordon — made time before his school shift to ride with the boy, to make a difference in his life.
Gordon, his wife, and his two sons, enjoyed living here. They loved the Colorado outdoors. They hiked, biked, skied, camped. Gordon liked to travel and to learn. He played drums in a band. His motto was “Look for the good in every day.”
Gordon was the good in every day. I hope that he knew that.
Both officers of whom I have spoken were taken away in a moment. From their families. From their friends. From their communities.
Yet others have been lost in the past year in different ways, no less heartbreaking and damaging. Sadly, COVID was the leading cause of death among American law enforcement officers last year.
Here in Colorado, we have added 8 names on these panels for those killed by the coronavirus. We pay tribute to those officers who sacrificed their health, and ultimately their lives, while keeping the rest of us safe.
The current pandemic prompted a Denver Police Sergeant to research the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. We now have 8 historical additions, including two Denver police officers, Frank Potestio and Peter Walsh, who died responding to the 1918 crisis.
Whether lost suddenly or gradually, recently or in 1918 in Denver or in 1908 in Antonito, the heaviness of grief weighs on those closest who are left behind. Remarkably, we have 30 family members here today from Antonito to honor the town marshal killed 114 years ago. They’ve all traveled from the very southern part of our state to be here, to pay their respect and honor Marshal Rafael Peña’s sacrifice made 114 years ago. His memory endures. As does our grief.
Grief is described in many ways: “Grief is the tax we pay for our attachment. Grief is the final act of love.” But no matter how it is described, it is real. It brings a heaviness that is physical, and there is no set time or day that it will leave. It may never fully leave.
I have read that “Loss is a kind of eternal conscience, urging us to make better use of our finite days.” And to quote Eric Talley’s wise priest once more, “What are we doing with the days we have left??”
In the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we know that we have much work to do in the days we have left. We are committed to work with our partners in law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels, many of whom are represented right here, to do all we can to go after violent criminals who make our communities more dangerous. We do this work because we want for our citizens to be safe.
And on this day especially, we very much want the women and men in blue, who risk it all every day, to know how much they mean, and just how much we depend upon them.
As I close, let me say again that our debt not only is to those brave officers who have died in our service, but also to those loved-ones left behind. We owe all of you our gratitude, our support, and our respect, and you certainly have every measure of that devotion.
The following words are inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington: “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes. It is how they lived.”
By every measure that matters, they lived well.