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Commitment beyond the badge

Community remembers first responders who made ultimate sacrifice

Chicago Police Officer Michael K. Lappe describes during the keynote address a gunshot that nearly ended his life.
Chicago Police Officer Michael K. Lappe describes during the keynote address a gunshot that nearly ended his life.

On an April night 25 years ago, Michael Lappe learned how quickly life could be lost.

He was eight years into a career as a Chicago cop, working some of the toughest streets in the city, when he responded to a domestic disturbance call involving a mother and an adult son.

Lappe had just finished interviewing the mother, the victim of the disturbance, and was looking to speak with the son.

But the son didn’t want to cooperate.

From a different room in the house, he ordered the police to leave.

With his gun drawn, Lappe walked down a hallway toward the kitchen, expecting the subject to be sitting at the kitchen table.

Little did he know, the man was actually hiding behind the stove, about to ambush the 32-year-old officer.

Lappe was shot in the throat.

He dropped to the ground, his gun falling from his hand. Overhead, the police and the subject exchanged rounds.

He knew he was about to die.

As his colleagues carried him out of the house, Lappe used his last moments of consciousness to ask his partners to tell his wife and two small children he loved them.

Lappe would survive, but his story speaks to the sacrifice every man and woman who wears the badge of law enforcement or emergency response undertakes every day. The danger that looms over every workday begun.

During his keynote address at the annual Grundy County Law Enforcement Managers Association Memorial Service Thursday morning, Lappe shared his story of recovery and determination in a ceremony that honored fallen law enforcement officials and emergency responders.

“Celebrate the good in life and take nothing for granted,” Lappe told the officers and firefighters in attendance. “Don’t waste the gift of life.”

It was a warm, sunny morning on the front lawn of the Grundy County Courthouse.

A crowd of both officers and civilians alike were gathered to pay tribute to those who had sacrificed their lives in the name of public safety.

After a rousing rendition of the national anthem from Jim Cornelison, the anthem singer for the Chicago Blackhawks, they did just that.

Plainfield Fire Chief Dave Riddle, formerly of the Channahon Fire District, spoke in memory of Channahon Firefighter Kenneth J. Frayne, who died in the line of duty in 2001.

“It is our duty to be sure his passing was not in vain,” Riddle said, holding back tears. “It’s our duty to remember Ken.”

Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes remembered Morris Firefighter James K. Allen, who died in service in 1985.

“Jimmy demonstrated the true meaning of love,” Steffes said. “He loved his community so much he died to protect it.”

Sgt. John Severson and Chief Brent Dite, both of the Morris Police Department, recalled two public servants from the history of Morris.

Marshall Enoch T. Hopkins, who was born in 1824, served 24 years on the force before being shot dead in the line of duty in 1878.

“We need to remember the sacrifice he made,” Severson said.

Almost 50 years later, in 1935, Morris Patrolman Clarence R. Roseland was gunned down while serving the law. His great-granddaughter, Emma Roseland, sang “America the Beautiful” at the ceremony Thursday.

“[Roseland] performed his duties without reservation,” Dite said. “That ultimately cost him his life.”
Lappe’s service didn’t cost him his life, but it was close.

Four days after a subject shot him from four feet away, Lappe woke up, unable to speak or move his legs.

His wife, by his bedside, handed him a pad of paper, upon which he wrote: “Bad guy?”

Dead. He’d shot himself during the ensuing shoot-out with police.

Lappe was told he may never walk again.

But through almost five months of ups and downs, he worked hard to recover, trying to — as he put it Thursday morning — turn tragedy into victory.

“I wasn’t going to let evil win,” Lappe said.

He didn’t.

He soon returned to the force in a limited capacity, and helped establish the “Police Survivors” organization, which serves police officers who sustained life-threatening injuries as they recover.

The Joliet Police Department Pipes and Drums Corps played “Amazing Grace.” The Grundy County Honor Guard posted colors at the beginning of the ceremony and performed the firing party.

Morris Police Officer Steve Huettemann played “Taps” and Pastor Steve Larson, chaplain of the Morris Police Department, gave the invocation and benediction.

Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson thanked the officers and firefighters present for their service, giving them credit for making the county, state and nation what they are.

“Without them,” he said, “society would fall into chaos.”

Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan said the officers and firefighters were “true heroes,” who know “each day might be their last.”

“It is not the badge they wear over their heart that makes them special, but the call and commitment to serve others,” Callahan said.

A moment of silence was also held for former Grundy County Sheriff Terry Marketti, who died last December of natural causes.

It was Marketti’s idea, Callahan said, to bring Cornelison to the event.

When Marketti passed, Grundy County Sgt. Tanya Paquette reached out to Cornelison, who accepted the invitation.

“It’s important to support their sacrifice,” Cornelison said after the event. “I was honored to be here.”

Police, firefighters and civilians in attendance took pictures with Cornelison, who sang before the Blackhawks 4-1 win over rival Detroit Redwings in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals Wednesday night.

In the end, though, the focus was on remembering those who had sacrificed for their communities.

“We must remember what these people stood for and died for,” Callahan said. “It’s not how they died that made these people heroes, but how they lived.”

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