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Officer Watson's acts of kindness provide comfort

Posted: Friday, January 02, 2004

With nearly 2,000 peace officers, emergency personnel, state officials, community members, friends and family looking on, fallen Kenai Police Officer John Watson was remembered at a ceremony Wednesday at Kenai Central High School.

A day of tears and reflection for the man known as "Big John" began with a three-mile long procession of police and emergency vehicles snaking along the Kenai Spur Highway. With Watson's white cruiser leading the way, the procession slowly wound up the icy highway from Peninsula Memorial Chapel to Kenai Central High School, where the service took place.

Once there, between 400 and 500 officers from agencies across the state filed into the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium, quietly taking their seats in anticipation of a service for a man many of them never got the chance to meet.

They came from as far away as North Pole and Portland, Ore., from as close as Wildwood Correctional Center and Soldotna to honor the memory of the first Kenai police officer ever killed in the line of duty.

Watson, an 18-year veteran of Kenai's small, close-knit force, was shot and killed Christmas night, following a struggle outside a home in the VIP neighborhood on the outskirts of town. David Forster, 33, was arrested and charged with killing Watson with his own gun -- a crime that has shocked and saddened the city of Kenai as well as the state's entire law enforcement community.

But Wednesday's service was not intended to dwell on the facts of Watson's tragic death; instead, mourners focused on the countless positive actions and kind deeds committed by the officer during his 43 years of life.

His casket, draped with an American flag, was brought into the auditorium by six members of the Kenai police force. Kenai police officers then escorted Watson's large family -- including his wife, Kathy, and his seven children -- to their seats.

The officers then took their own seats on the stage, leaving one seat open in tribute to their fallen friend.

Watson's pastor, David Higginbotham of Kenai Christian Church, delivered the eulogy. Often pausing to gather himself during the emotional speech, Higginbotham described Watson as a man of strong beliefs, character and moral values.

"John throughout his life walked the talk, protecting and serving -- serving this community," Higgin-botham said.

Higginbotham said Watson was a man of faith who loved his family, his work and his Lord.

"John understood all parts of his life, the physical, emotional and spiritual, are all related, but only the spirit will survive the life we live," he said.

He also said Officer Watson was a teacher, a man who knew how to get a point across with humor and strength. The pastor related a story about when Watson pulled his daughter over for speeding. Watson was about to let Higginbotham's 18-year-old daughter off with just a warning, when he added one thing.

"Make sure to tell your dad officer Watson says hello," Higgin-botham told the laughing audience. "That's when she knew she was busted."

After Higginbotham's eulogy, the lights dimmed for a slide show featuring pictures from Watson's life.

Many in the audience, which included both musclebound cops and burly bikers, wiped away tears as scenes from Watson's life appeared on a large screen at the front of the auditorium. The slides showed Watson as a child growing up in Michigan, as a strapping teenager in football pads and as a father holding his infant daughter. They also showed a number of pictures of Watson riding his beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle with his wife and friends through the Alaska countryside.

As the lights came back up, Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp rose to the podium to share a few of his memories of Watson.

He told of the numerous commendations and citations Watson had received in his 18 years on the force and read a letter from a woman who Watson came into contact with one dark night three years ago.

"The day I met officer Watson was the worst day of my life," the letter began.

Depressed and suicidal, the woman had swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. She said she didn't remember much from that night, but what she did remember of the officer who came to her aid that night will stay with her always.

"The peace I felt as his unshaken voice reached me, I will never forget," the woman wrote.

The woman went on to say that she now owes each day of her life to the steady cop who never left her side throughout her ordeal.

"I will make every new day count," she wrote. "Your time and energy were not wasted."

Kopp said the loss of Watson leaves a big hole in his police force, and from now on, Christmas day will hold a somber significance for his officers.

"For all of us here, Christmas from this day forward will be a day of remembrance for John Watson," Kopp said.

A tearful Kopp said that, during this tough time, he takes comfort in the fact that he knows Watson has gone to a better place.

"John will never come back to me," Kopp said. "But some day, I will go to meet him."

He said the Kenai Police Department will use Watson's memory as a source of strength in the months and years to come.

"He would want us to continue to serve with courage, and honor, and this is what we will do," he said.

Alaska Commissioner of Public Safety William Tandeske and Lt. Gov. Loren Leman also attended the service. Tandeske said the loss of a police officer in the line of duty has profoundly affected the state's police and emergency personnel.

"We in law enforcement have suffered a tremendous loss. It doesn't matter what uniform you wear. ... We are all one family," he said.

Lt. Gov. Leman said that he believes that out of such a tragedy, good can come if Watson's memory is used as a way to inspire future generations of public safety workers.

"If any good can come out of this evil, I hope it is young men and women are inspired by Officer Watson," Leman said. "Alaska needs honest, dedicated peace officers like John."

At the conclusion of Leman's remarks, Kopp presented Kathy Watson with a state flag and letter of condolence from Gov. Frank Murkowski. A 21-gun salute sounded from outside the auditorium, as a lone bugler played "Taps." Watson's family was then led from the auditorium by Kenai police officers to the sound of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace."

Following the service, Watson's body was escorted back to Peninsula Memorial Chapel by the Kenai Police Department. After the procession concluded, Kopp made one final call to police radio dispatch on the fallen officer's behalf.

"Kenai K-11 is 10-7," Kopp radioed, using police code meaning officer Watson is no longer in service.

"10-4," came the dispatcher's reply. "Rest in peace. We love you, and we'll take it from here."

HEAD:Peace officers from across state pay last respects

BYLINE1:By JENNY NEYMAN

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

The level of formality and reverence that was the hallmark of slain Kenai Police Officer John Watson's funeral Wednesday awed many area residents who had never witnessed such a ceremonial show of respect.

It was a bittersweet sight: a fitting honor to the 18-year Kenai police veteran and beloved member of the community, yet also a sad reminder of the brutal way in which he was shot dead in the line of duty.

Four-hundred-plus public safety officers drove and flew from around the state and beyond to attend the funeral at Kenai Central High School.

Most had never met Watson, had never seen his easy smile or heard him talk about his love for his family or his hobby of riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

But they didn't need to know him. All they needed to know was he was a fallen colleague, so he deserved their respect.

"Everyone in law enforcement feels that pain, regardless of whether they knew him or not. He was a part of the law enforcement brotherhood," said Officer Scott Roberts with the Anchorage Police Department.

Roberts joined the solemn sea of officers in black, blue, tan and green uniforms that crowded into the Eagles Aerie No. 35255 next to Peninsula Memorial Chapel on Wednesday morning to get instructions for the processional to Kenai Central High School. The crowd waited quietly as Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp thanked them for their presence.

"I'm overwhelmed by the support by the Anchorage Police Department (and others), simply overwhelmed. I love you guys," Kopp said.

The procession was led by Watson's patrol car, driven by a fellow Kenai officer, another patrol car carrying Chief Kopp and Kenai Lt. Kim Wannamaker, a hearse with Watson's American flag-draped coffin, and vehicles carrying Watson's family. Alaska State Troopers from Soldotna's E Detachment and Kenai Fire Department officers were next in line, since they responded to the call Christmas night when Watson was killed.

Other law enforcement vehicles from across the peninsula and the state filled out the procession. As the officers arrived at the high school, they parked their vehicles and stood at attention behind them in the sub-zero morning air until Watson's body had been taken inside.

The ceremony gave some comfort to Watson's grieving family, said Tom Watson of Michigan, John's brother.

"It's the first time I've seen that -- the whole camaraderie of the brotherhood of the service," he said. "You see movies like that, how they all gather together and help the family, and it's helped us. Those guys definitely are all broken up, you can tell they miss John."

During the funeral, the officers listened to speakers tell what a fine officer and man John Watson was. The officers filled a good portion of the lower level of the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at KCHS, but their numbers were more than doubled by the community members who filled the rest of the auditorium and spilled into the KCHS gym, where a closed-circuit system was set up.

Almost all already knew Watson, and had stories of their own to remember him by.

Jerry R. Carlson remembers Watson from the many times he stopped by Carlson's pawn shop in Kenai, sometimes on official business, but more often just to chat.

"Every time he drove by he was always waving and smiling really big," Carlson said. "He was just a neat guy."

Carlson also knew Watson through their mutual interest in Harleys.

"He had the best license plate on a Harley in Alaska -- 'Frozn,'" Carlson said.

That license plate does not at all describe Watson's personality, however. Many people listed his warm, friendly nature and teddy bear-like qualities as his most notable traits.

Craig Breshears of Anchorage said he was always impressed with Watson's positive attitude. Breshears is the director of the Alaska chapter of Harley Owner's Group, and Watson often sought his advice when he became the director of the newly formed peninsula HOG chapter. It was a challenge for Watson at first trying to round up enough volunteer support to make the group a go.

"Instead of complaining to me, he asked for solutions," Breshears said. "... What strikes me most about John is I never, in three years of knowing him, heard him complain."

Jim Graige of North Kenai knew Watson for years and went on many summer rides with him.

"He really loved people," Graige said. "He didn't usually sit on the sidelines, he was involved, whether it was police work, civic things, the Elks chapter, teaching kids about drugs. ... He was just so interested in people and really enjoyed being around people."

His love extended to more than just people, said Sandy Taylor, who lives near Kasilof. She first met Watson in about 1996 when he responded to a call of a moose hit by a vehicle near the bowling alley in Kenai. Taylor saw the animal get hit and after going to its aid saw that it was a pregnant cow. Watson had to shoot the animal, but Taylor asked him to help her do a C-section to try and save the calf. He gave her a pocket knife to make the incision, held the animal's legs and gave her a blanket to rub the placenta off the calf. The calf didn't make it, but Taylor never forgot Watson's willingness to help.

"He tried, that's the kind of guy he was," Taylor said. "They talk about (his love for) people, but he also loved animals. I'll never forget him. Even though he had other things to do, he stayed there and helped."

Hearing stories like these has been a comfort to his grieving family, Tom Watson said.

"The services have been just wonderful," he said. "They've shared just wonderful memories of John. Everybody comes up and wants to share a special memory of John and how wonderful he's made their lives."

Out-of-town family members, including Watson's mother, two brothers and sister, returned to their homes Thursday and took memories of the funeral and stories from Watson's friends with them.

"I think we're coming to grips with it," Tom Watson said. "It's been rough. We're trying to work through it."

Watson's colleagues at the Kenai Police Department and his many friends in the community are doing the same.

"He'll be missed, no doubt about it," Graige said. "That's a spot in our community that will never be filled. He was pretty much a one-of-a-kind guy."

BYLINE1:By MATT TUNSETH

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

With nearly 2,000 peace officers, emergency personnel, state officials, community members, friends and family looking on, fallen Kenai Police Officer John Watson was remembered at a ceremony Wednesday at Kenai Central High School.

A day of tears and reflection for the man known as "Big John" began with a three-mile long procession of police and emergency vehicles snaking along the Kenai Spur Highway. With Watson's white cruiser leading the way, the procession slowly wound up the icy highway from Peninsula Memorial Chapel to Kenai Central High School, where the service took place.

Once there, between 400 and 500 officers from agencies across the state filed into the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium, quietly taking their seats in anticipation of a service for a man many of them never got the chance to meet.

They came from as far away as North Pole and Portland, Ore., from as close as Wildwood Correctional Center and Soldotna to honor the memory of the first Kenai police officer ever killed in the line of duty.

Watson, an 18-year veteran of Kenai's small, close-knit force, was shot and killed Christmas night, following a struggle outside a home in the VIP neighborhood on the outskirts of town. David Forster, 33, was arrested and charged with killing Watson with his own gun -- a crime that has shocked and saddened the city of Kenai as well as the state's entire law enforcement community.

But Wednesday's service was not intended to dwell on the facts of Watson's tragic death; instead, mourners focused on the countless positive actions and kind deeds committed by the officer during his 43 years of life.

His casket, draped with an American flag, was brought into the auditorium by six members of the Kenai police force. Kenai police officers then escorted Watson's large family -- including his wife, Kathy, and his seven children -- to their seats.

The officers then took their own seats on the stage, leaving one seat open in tribute to their fallen friend.

Watson's pastor, David Higginbotham of Kenai Christian Church, delivered the eulogy. Often pausing to gather himself during the emotional speech, Higginbotham described Watson as a man of strong beliefs, character and moral values.

"John throughout his life walked the talk, protecting and serving -- serving this community," Higgin-botham said.

Higginbotham said Watson was a man of faith who loved his family, his work and his Lord.

"John understood all parts of his life, the physical, emotional and spiritual, are all related, but only the spirit will survive the life we live," he said.

He also said Officer Watson was a teacher, a man who knew how to get a point across with humor and strength. The pastor related a story about when Watson pulled his daughter over for speeding. Watson was about to let Higginbotham's 18-year-old daughter off with just a warning, when he added one thing.

"Make sure to tell your dad officer Watson says hello," Higgin-botham told the laughing audience. "That's when she knew she was busted."

After Higginbotham's eulogy, the lights dimmed for a slide show featuring pictures from Watson's life.

Many in the audience, which included both musclebound cops and burly bikers, wiped away tears as scenes from Watson's life appeared on a large screen at the front of the auditorium. The slides showed Watson as a child growing up in Michigan, as a strapping teenager in football pads and as a father holding his infant daughter. They also showed a number of pictures of Watson riding his beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle with his wife and friends through the Alaska countryside.

As the lights came back up, Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp rose to the podium to share a few of his memories of Watson.

He told of the numerous commendations and citations Watson had received in his 18 years on the force and read a letter from a woman who Watson came into contact with one dark night three years ago.

"The day I met officer Watson was the worst day of my life," the letter began.

Depressed and suicidal, the woman had swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. She said she didn't remember much from that night, but what she did remember of the officer who came to her aid that night will stay with her always.

"The peace I felt as his unshaken voice reached me, I will never forget," the woman wrote.

The woman went on to say that she now owes each day of her life to the steady cop who never left her side throughout her ordeal.

"I will make every new day count," she wrote. "Your time and energy were not wasted."

Kopp said the loss of Watson leaves a big hole in his police force, and from now on, Christmas day will hold a somber significance for his officers.

"For all of us here, Christmas from this day forward will be a day of remembrance for John Watson," Kopp said.

A tearful Kopp said that, during this tough time, he takes comfort in the fact that he knows Watson has gone to a better place.

"John will never come back to me," Kopp said. "But some day, I will go to meet him."

He said the Kenai Police Department will use Watson's memory as a source of strength in the months and years to come.

"He would want us to continue to serve with courage, and honor, and this is what we will do," he said.

Alaska Commissioner of Public Safety William Tandeske and Lt. Gov. Loren Leman also attended the service. Tandeske said the loss of a police officer in the line of duty has profoundly affected the state's police and emergency personnel.

"We in law enforcement have suffered a tremendous loss. It doesn't matter what uniform you wear. ... We are all one family," he said.

Lt. Gov. Leman said that he believes that out of such a tragedy, good can come if Watson's memory is used as a way to inspire future generations of public safety workers.

"If any good can come out of this evil, I hope it is young men and women are inspired by Officer Watson," Leman said. "Alaska needs honest, dedicated peace officers like John."

At the conclusion of Leman's remarks, Kopp presented Kathy Watson with a state flag and letter of condolence from Gov. Frank Murkowski. A 21-gun salute sounded from outside the auditorium, as a lone bugler played "Taps." Watson's family was then led from the auditorium by Kenai police officers to the sound of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace."

Following the service, Watson's body was escorted back to Peninsula Memorial Chapel by the Kenai Police Department. After the procession concluded, Kopp made one final call to police radio dispatch on the fallen officer's behalf.

"Kenai K-11 is 10-7," Kopp radioed, using police code meaning officer Watson is no longer in service.

"10-4," came the dispatcher's reply. "Rest in peace. We love you, and we'll take it from here."



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