Whenever someone dies too young, we all lose something. We lose the person, who and what that person was, and what he or she would’ve become.
I was shocked and sorrowful to receive the news last week of the tragic death of Kittitas County Sheriff Deputy Ryan Thompson. The loss of Deputy Thompson in the line of duty is a stark reminder of the real dangers that a few of our friends and neighbors voluntarily confront every day on our behalf.
For family members and close friends, losing a loved one is heartbreaking. It must be almost impossible to bear when the loss occurs before it should. We’ve all felt such a loss or know someone who has.
But the sudden and appalling death of Deputy Ryan Thompson is crushing to us all.
Kittitas County is a small community where Deputy Thompson served. It’s where he worked, raised his family, and became part of the community. There, everyone knows everyone. If you don’t know a person, you know someone who does.
I didn’t know Deputy Thompson. But I was one of his County Commissioners for 10 years, and I probably met him a few times in passing. I worked closely with the Sheriff’s department, so I know many of his colleagues. I saw his family at church. The family’s oldest daughter is the same age as my son, and they attend the same high school.
Over time as an elected leader, you meet a lot of people. You get to know a few of them well. The people you serve and the organization you represent becomes a big part of your extended family. You see them every day, and you work together for everyone’s benefit. It’s like that in a lot of places. That’s what it’s like for counties too.
I know people who knew Deputy Thompson. I know people who know the family. The people I know are devastated. Some of them are the people that I worked with every day for the last decade. I hurt with them.
As I write this, I am preparing to attend the memorial service for Deputy Thompson this afternoon. A huge portion of our small community will be there. Senators, Representatives, local elected officials, and numerous law enforcement officials from all over the state are descending on this small county to take part in the solemn ceremony of remembrance.
They want to support the family and the community. Many want to pay their respects to a local hero who gave more than most for the place he swore to protect. All are grieving for what is lost and will never be replaced.
But after the ceremony is over and everyone is gone, what will we do next?
Our county has come together during this time with an outpouring of love and support for the family, for law enforcement, and for each other. In a place like Kittitas County, that will continue long after everyone else is gone, and people will always step up to help each other. That’s just what it’s like to live in a place like this. It’s not even surprising.
But really, what will we do next?
How does Kittitas County and its cities and towns and all the people who live and work here make sure something like this doesn’t happen again? How do we stop something as tragic and horrifying as this?
We will put together a memorial. We will remember Deputy Ryan Thompson. Generations will never forget what happened here and the day that Deputy Thompson made the ultimate sacrifice.
But the unspeakable and offensive truth is, no matter what we do, something like this will probably happen again.
As long as brave men and women are willing to place themselves between us and harm, to protect our communities, our families, our lives – some will make the ultimate sacrifice. We call them heroes, and we should.
Deputy Ryan Thompson is one of those.
His sacrifice is a debt upon us all.
We shouldn’t need reminders like this, but we do.
Just like Deputy Thompson, each of us has the power to do good. Really using that power involves sacrifice. Sacrifice means love. When we love one another, we all benefit. Our family, our friends, our community, our country, and our world are better for it. We are better off because of Deputy Ryan Thompson’s love.
When we truly love, most of the time we can’t lose.
But last week, we all lost.
We owe something to Deputy Ryan Thompson and his family. We must choose to work together and keep moving forward every day – keep sacrificing, and loving, for each other. Even the hard days.
And we will.