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The possibility of being killed in the line of duty is ever-present in law enforcement and it became very real for the families of seven slain North Carolina officers this year.
As the niece of a fallen officer, Carie Jones knows all too well the pain of loss that never goes away. It has been more than 20 years since Sharpsburg Police Chief Wayne Hathaway was killed and for the last six, Jones has done her part to pay homage to her uncle and hundreds of other North Carolinian officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“It is nice to have people stop by and really look at the tree and all the officers on it,” Jones said. “When you tell people there are 566 fallen officers, they are shocked. It is a big number, but when you actually see all the names and faces hanging on the tree, the gravity of it really sinks in.”
Back in 2013, the Christmas tree decorated in honor of these fallen officers lit up her front yard. Since then, it has moved to cities throughout the area, with this year being the second at the Nashville Police Department.
“We are honored to host the LEO Fallen Officer Tree again this year in the town of Nashville,” Chief Thomas Bashore said.
Last year, Nashville officers researched the stories of several slain officers from the tree and shared the information on the Nashville Police Department Facebook page. Bashore said it was very popular with residents and will be back by popular demand.
Jones said the tree was included in the Sharpsburg Christmas parade recently where she recalled a conversation with a high school Junior ROTC member.
“He asked how many officers there were and when I told him, he said, ‘Wow, that is sad,’” she recalled. “It is sad because that means someone lost their father, their son, their sister or their aunt.”
Jones has reprinted each of the ornaments this year and planned to decorate the tree Sunday afternoon.
“This year, I’m redoing all of the names because the weather has taken a toll through the years, so they are faded or dirty,” Jones said. “It really got to me how many have passed alone in North Carolina much less the United States.”
The tree will be on display for public viewing throughout the holiday season.
“These officers are people just like you and me. They are human and their life matters,” Jones said. “They sacrificed their life for all of us.”