With County Sheriff’s Deputies Sergeant Matthew Moreno and Travis Russell both losing their lives in the line of duty in recent years, local law enforcement agencies and two local state legislators got together for a solemn memorial ceremony at the Garcia Justice Center, located at 2309 E. Main St., on Monday, July 1 to dedicate new memorial stones in their honor.
Director Dan Moynihan of the Trinidad Ambulance District (TAD), who also works for the Sheriff’s Office, served as master of ceremonies at the event, which included the installation of eight memorial stones to commemorate the service and sacrifice of local law enforcement officers who had also lost their lives in service to the people.
Dep. Travis Russell, age 44, passed away due to natural causes while on duty on March 1, 2016, and Dep. Sgt. Moreno, age 37, died while on duty in a tragic traffic accident on Dec 12, 2018 just east of Valdez, approximately 20 miles west of Trinidad. In both cases the outpouring of grief and community sympathy were immense. Two state legislators, State Senator Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and State Representative Kimmi Lewis, R-Kim, along with representatives from Las Animas County, the City of Trinidad, the County Sheriffs’ of Colorado and many area emergency services agencies were on hand for the ceremony.
Brother Harry Gonzales gave the invocation, calling the fallen officers “the great heroes of Trinidad,” and the U.S. flag was raised to full-staff and then lowered to half-staff in a solemn ceremony. Dawn Elzi of the Colorado Springs honor guard guard sang a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
“We recently lost two deputies, Sgt. Matt Moreno and Dep. Travis Russell, but there are other deputies who have lost their lives dating back to 1872 and some were the original sheriffs,” Moynihan said. “We wanted to be sure that we honored those who had lost their lives working for the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office.”
County Commissioner Tony Hass then read a proclamation from the county board of commissioners, designating July 1, 2019 and every July 1 thereafter be designated as “Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office Fallen Officers’ Remembrance Day.” The proclamation was unanimously approved by the County Board at its meeting on June 18, 2019. “When I visited this office when I was running for county commissioner, I was immediately impressed by the way these people at the Sheriff’s Office have each other’s backs no matter what happens,” Commissioner Hass said.
Moynihan thanked Hass and the other commissioners for establishing an annual day to commemorate fallen officers who had given their lives in service to the people of Las Animas County. He said he’d met an Oklahoma businessman named Jim Craig, who offered to pay for the memorials to fallen officers. Craig was on hand to offer his own tribute to the fallen local officers and the many others nationwide who have lost their lives serving the public. The Colorado Fallen Officers’ Association donated a plaque to the sheriff’s office commemorating the event, with Undersheriff Reynaldo Santistevan accepting it on behalf of the office.
Sen. Crowder commented on the sacrifices that law enforcement officers are so often required to make in the performance of their duties. “The officers’ honor, dignity, commitment and conviction of what they do for the citizens of this state and this country are to be honored, and can never be overemphasized,” Crowder said. “The entire State of Colorado shares with you today the empathy that goes along with accepting these stones. I think we should pay tribute to those who have given their lives so willingly to the population. I think that the citizenry should make a special effort to honor to those who wear these uniforms from us as citizens. So just rest assured that the State of Colorado does very much stand with you in times like this. We are very, very supportive of what you do for us. Next to the military, I think you are the line of defense we can rely on. We do thank you for what you do and you can rely on us for our continued support.”
Rep. Lewis told the survivors of the two fallen officers that she too had lost a spouse at a relatively young age, and offered her support to the survivors of the fallen officers. “As I sit behind this young family, I just want to talk a little bit about courage,” Lewis said. “Courage is what it takes for these gentlemen we are honoring here today. Courage is what it took to put on that uniform. Courage is what it’s taking today for the grieving families. It hits home for me because I was a widow at age 42.
“Courage is what it takes for these young families to get up and remember that their loved ones gave their lives for this county, and for the dedication of all law enforcement officers. Grieving is what we do, but we have to remember how wonderful the gift of life was. That gift of life that brought you the son, the husband, the father are what we are talking about today. That gift of life, whether it’s just for a few years or maybe a longer span of years, it’s still a gift of life from God, and we have to remember that. I can remember, as a young widow, talking to my children about what it was. What a gift that we have, that we were given.”
She talked about the vast expanses of Las Animas County and how difficult it was for the Sheriff’s Office personnel to enforce the law and protect the people over such a huge area. She asked all in attendance to remember the sacrifices made by law enforcement personnel in the performance of their duties. The eight memorial stones dedicated to the fallen local officers can be seen just outside the main entrance of the Garcia Justice Center.
Other names listed on the Center’s memorial stones include:
Sheriff Juan C. Tafoya — End of Watch Feb. 6, 1872
Deputy Sheriff Bill Thompson — End of Watch Feb. 17, 1883
Deputy Sheriff William Green — End of Watch Feb. 1, 1896
Deputy Sheriff William Kelly — End of Watch April 1, 2896
Deputy Sheriff Francisco Garcia – End of Watch Oct. 19, 1905
Deputy Antonio T. Shelby — End of Watch April 7, 1908
Deputy Sheriff Travis Russell — End of Watch March 1, 2016
Deputy Sheriff Sgt. Matthew Moreno — End of Watch Dec. 12, 2018