Dozens of law enforcement personnel and their K-9 officers filed past U.S. Forest Service Officer Jason Crisp’s casket inside the McDowell High School gymnasium on a cold, damp Monday afternoon.
The men and women gave a sharp, somber salute as they swept by, the German shepherds whimpering and tugging at their partners’ leashes. Fifteen feet away, Crisp’s widow, Amanda, started to weep softly, as Crisp’s best friend and co-worker Officer Wade Keener comforted her.
Around them was a sea of blue, brown, beige and black dress uniforms, worn by law enforcement personnel from all over – including Charlotte, Hickory, Huntersville, Winston-Salem, Cherokee County to the west, Gaston County to the east, state troopers, park rangers, and on and on.
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But more than anything else, there was green: Hundreds of U.S. Forest Service employees and officers dressed in their field uniforms, there to pay respect to Crisp, 38, who was killed last week along with his service dog, Maros, while approaching a homicide suspect in Burke County.
As the color guard presented the colors to open Monday’s memorial service, the only sound was the heavy panting of the K-9 officers who had taken their spots at their officers’ feet on the balcony at the rear of the gym.
During the 2 1/2-hour service, which also was attended by dignitaries including Gov. Pat McCrory, Crisp was remembered as someone who was “warmhearted” and “always looked out for others” – “when he looked at somebody, you could just tell … he cared,” said the Rev. Randy Arrowood, himself a Forest Service employee.
Crisp started at the U.S. Forest Service as a timber marker before graduating from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in 2005. He and Maros routinely assisted in hunts for suspects in McDowell, Burke, Avery, Watauga and Caldwell counties; they spent as much as half of their time on searches.
Both were shot last Wednesday by Troy David Whisnant, 38, who was suspected of killing his father and stepmother. Authorities said Whisnant later shot himself in the head after a confrontation with officers.
The Forest Service said Maros was cremated and was to be buried with his partner. Their remains were transported from Westmoreland Funeral Home to the school during a processional that brought traffic to a halt and saw 2 1/2 miles of Marion streets lined with people braving the raw weather to pay their respects. Fire engines on opposite sides of U.S. 70 extended their ladders to display a massive American flag that the procession passed under.
At the service, Andy Brinkley, Crisp’s supervisor, said that both “Maros and Jason were warriors. Warriors take the fight to the enemy. Warriors go into harm’s way when all others flee. Jason just wanted to make the world a better place.”
But friends also recalled Crisp as a practical joker, easy with a wide smile, a guy who probably – if he’d had to get up in front of more than a thousand people at a funeral – would need to calm his nerves by imagining everyone in the audience naked, Forest Service Special Agent Kevin Woodall told the gathering.
Lighthearted moments like this coaxed smiles out of Amanda Crisp, Jason’s wife of 18 years, and their sons, Garett and Logan. “I know Jason is looking down and he’s grinning,” Woodall said. “He’s saying, ‘I can’t believe all this is for me.’ ”