Behind the headlines of slain Eugene officer

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A Community Grieves Eugene Police Officer Killed Friday Night
by Kelli Warner
KMTR-TV Morning News anchor
Springfield, OR

The headline read: Officer Shot Dead During Car Chase.

But the sheer emotion of this weekend tragedy goes far beyond the headlines for this journalist.

Motorcycle officer Chris Kilcullen, a 12-year veteran of the Eugene police Department was shot by a woman during, what began as, a routine traffic stop on Friday afternoon. It happened at an intersection I drive through several times a day going to and from home. On this day, I was taking the kids to Good Friday service at church.

As we approached the intersection, it became apparent very quickly that something had happened. First, I saw an officer directing traffic. Across the highway, another officer was stringing crime scene tape. I saw the red and blue emergency lights flashing and several cars off the roadway.

Out of habit, I asked my son to dial up the newsroom on my cell phone so I could find out what was going on. I was told, at that moment, the details were sketchy but a police officer had been hurt; and there was a chase going on in another section of the county. Later that evening, the details that were missing hours earlier began to come together.

Following a police chase, a 56-year-old woman was taken into custody for the shooting and it was confirmed that Officer Kilcullen had died.

For the next 48 hours I drove that stretch of road throughout the day: I watched as a memorial appeared and continued to grow at the spot where the officer’s life tragically ended. First, an American flag appeared; then several white crosses, followed by more flags and an array of flowers, notes and balloons. Each time I passed, I noticed cars pulled off on the side of the road and people standing before the memorial.

On one occasion, while sitting at a red light, I watched a man and a woman, their arms clasped around each other, standing motionless in front of the display.

At a news conference on Saturday, fellow officers stood before the microphone and television cameras to speak words of admiration for this fallen officer. One Lieutenant said something I will never forget. He said, “I have seen him arrest bad guys, truly bad guys, who treated him like dirt. And I saw him respond to them by treating them like a true gentleman.” Another officer added, “The only thing that made Chris Kilcullen smile bigger than helping people, was going home to his wife and kids.”

As a journalist, I am here to report the facts and tell the story. But when something like this happens it shakes a community to the core. There is a desperate need to make sense of the senseless. A small part of me cannot help but question humanity. And for a moment I falter in my belief that good will always prevail over evil.

As a community, we are immensely saddened and we grieve. I am angry that someone would hurt a person who has proven himself as a protector of the people. As a wife and mother, I am heartbroken for his family. It pains me to think of how their world, shattered in an instant, must somehow go on without the man on whom they leaned to carry them through tough times.

So I share the words spoken by Officer Kilcullen’s wife at a candlelight vigil for her husband. “If you see a police officer,” she said, “say ‘thank you,’ because he may not get to go home to his family tonight.”

The Eugene Police Department will hold a memorial service with full honors for Officer Kilcullen this Friday, April 29 at 2:00 in the afternoon. It will be held at the Matthew Knight Arena on the University of Oregon campus.

A big venue to remember a man with a big heart for serving his community.

Thank you, Officer Chris Kilcullen, for your service.

I am truly grateful.