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In wake of Dallas tragedy, community unites behind Gresham officers

Gresham police mourn officers killed in Thursday shootings.

CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Gresham police Capt. Tim Gerkman thanks people outside the police station for showing support on Friday afternoon in the wake of a Dallas, Texas, shooting in which five police officers were killed. The Gresham community came together to show support for local law enforcement after a tumultuous week in which several Dallas, Texas, police officers were killed and injured in the wake of fatal police-involved suspect shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana.

The tragedies were remembered with special prayers in houses of worship, while citizens staged a demonstration of appreciation for Gresham officers outside the Gresham Police Department.

Gresham churches on Sunday, July 10, marked the events with solemn prayers, and area pastors mentioned the tragedies in their sermons. East Hill Community Church in downtown Gresham began services with a special time of prayer, said Amelia Warden, the church’s communications director. After praying as a congregation for the country, East Hill congregants broke into small groups to pray for the lives lost, for those who mourned them, and for peace and unity.

Community members in their own ways are showing support for local law enforcement and those killed in the line of duty in Dallas. Citizens have dropped off cards and baked goods and made a point to thank officers for their dedication.

Community members showed up at the police station to show their appreciation for local law enforcement. As officers stood outside on Friday, July 8, at the station off Northwest Eastman Parkway, more than 30 citizens endured a rare summer rainstorm to shake officers’ hands, hug them and thank them for risking their lives to keep the community safe.

“My little sister’s husband is a corrections officer, and he is trying to become a police officer,” said Terra Schaller, a longtime Gresham resident who organized the demonstration of support. “He is really good to my sister, so when I heard what happened it made me think of him. I couldn’t imagine if something happened to him. All these officers have families.”

Thursday night, July 7, Dallas, Texas, police officers were ambushed with gunfire while patrolling a peaceful demonstration organized in response to recent incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota in which police officers fatally shot two black males.

The Dallas attack left five officers dead and another seven injured, which made July 8 the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Two civilians were also injured in the Dallas shootings.

“The Gresham Police Department is saddened about the recent events regarding the senseless killing of Dallas-area police officers, and we are mourning their loss,” said Brandon Crate, a Gresham police spokesman. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Dallas Police Department, the families and loved ones of the slain and injured officers, and the citizens of Dallas as they struggle through this catastrophic event.”

Several officers shared stories of positive interactions with community members during a Monday, July 11, meeting at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

Lt. Joel Wendland said a resident approached him and another officer that morning at a Starbucks coffee shop.

“This citizen walked up and wanted to thank us for protecting families and for our service,” Wendland said. “It’s nice to see that our community members support us.”

Fairview’s interim chief of police, Capt. Eric “Harry” Smith, reported that one anonymous citizen tied a blue balloon and ribbon to the doors of City Hall. Another sent a letter and bouquet of flowers.

“This is obviously a really trying time, not just for law enforcement, but for the community as a whole,” Smith said. “It’s a tragedy that we’re going to get through as a community.”

CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Flowers were placed outside the Gresham Police Department on Friday in honor of five police officers fatally shot in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday night. In response to the tragedy, Gresham officers were authorized to wear mourning bands on their badges as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives in the line of duty. To help ensure their safety, patrol officers went out in two-man partner cars for the next few shifts. The department, Crate noted, will rely heavily on training, equipment and fellow officers.

“We will continue struggling to understand why these types of violent acts are carried out, and why people are targeted simply because of their chosen profession,” he said. “As police officers, we often wonder when we put that uniform on if we will go home at the end of the shift.”

Otherwise, department operations will continue as normal, with Crate stressing they will continue to remain vigilant in their sworn duty of protecting citizens.

The two pillars leading into the police station had blue ribbons tied around them, while a pile of bouquets, flowers, cards and candles had been left in front of the main entrance.

Six officers were at the station as the crowd gathered.

“I want to thank you all for coming out tonight,” Capt. Tim Gerkman said to the group.

Even intensifying rain failed to deter the crowd, with attendees interacting with the officers, sharing stories and asking questions. “We realize they have a hard job,” Schaller said. “We want to thank them for going out there every day keeping us safe.”

— Outlook reporters Zane Sparling and Teresa Carson contributed to this story.