Thousands of fellow law enforcement officials and others join in procession and Memorial Service for Justin DeRosier
A nation got to know and remember Justin DeRosier Wednesday afternoon.
The fallen Cowlitz County deputy was honored throughout the day, beginning with a historic 47-mile procession that started in Kelso in the morning and continued to the University of Portland where a Memorial Service was held for the 29-year-old DeRosier.
“Together, we’re all better for having known Justin,’’ said Cowlitz County Undersheriff Darren Ullmann, one of four speakers at the service held in front of a capacity crowd at the Chiles Center and broadcast over television stations in the Portland area. “We all need more Justin DeRosiers, not only as cops but as friends.’’
Law enforcement officials, first responders and others traveled from all over the country to the area to witness and participate in Wednesday’s procession and Memorial Service. Schools in DeRosier’s hometown of Kelso were closed for the day.
On April 13, DeRosier was shot and later died while responding to a call of a motorhome that was blocking Fallert Road in Cowlitz County. The next day, the person suspected of shooting DeRosier, Brian Butts, was shot and killed in an armed confrontation with two Kelso Police officers.
Those who spoke at his Memorial Service Wednesday said DeRosier was a devoted law enforcement officer.
“I knew Justin was destined to be someone special; he had a plan and I knew he was going to stick to it,’’ said Woodland Police Chief James Kelly. “Few deputies or officers I know would sign in with the enthusiasm that Justin did. He had a passion for the job. Justin found his calling, his passion, for being a deputy.’’
In the eulogy that was read at the service, the public learned that DeRosier was born in Hawaii and his family (parents Neil and Kelly, sister Jenna) relocated to Washington in 1993. He graduated from Kelso High School in 2008 and from Washington State University in Pullman in 2012 with a degree in Criminal Justice.
In May 2011, DeRosier was sworn in as a reserve deputy with the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office and later became a full-time deputy with that agency. He graduated from the Washington State Law Enforcement Academy in April 2014.
DeRosier met his wife Katie in Pullman in 2011 and the two were married in 2016. The couple had their first child, daughter Lily (6 months), just last year. DeRosier was described as a lover of the outdoors, classic cars, music, motorcycles, reading, trivia and photography. He was described as a “Jack of all trades.’’
In the eulogy, DeRosier was also described as original, loyal, American, faithful, adventurous, honest, inspiring and hilarious. It was also said that he was well read, charismatic and kind and that someone recently wrote on an online post that “Justin smiled from his whole body.’’
“I was moved by the massive showing of support and respect along the long and somber road,’’ said Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers, referring to the procession that delivered DeRosier’s body to the Memorial Service. “There’s a saying about heroes that heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Justin was anything but ordinary. Justin was an extraordinary person who did extraordinary things. He was larger than life; a fun person to be around. Justin was a friend to all who knew him He was the kind of guy everybody liked. I referred to him as ‘boy wonder.’ Justin stood out in any crowd.’’
Myers praised DeRosier’s performance as a deputy.
“His work ethic was second to none,’’ Myers said. “His abilities seemed to have no limits and his people skills were outstanding. This wasn’t a job to Justin, this was his calling. He loved what he did and he knew it was what he was supposed to be doing.
“Justin was smart, skilled and he was strong as an ox,’’ Myers added. “He always had a smile on his face and he was one of those guys if I was picking my dream team, he would have been one of my top choices every time and anybody that knows Justin DeRosier, he would have been one of their top choices too. Justin had extraordinary qualities, the qualities you can’t train in a person, in fact, the qualities that came pre-packaged — almost heaven sent. He had all the qualities you’re looking for but rarely find in one person. Justin could have been anything, but he chose to be a deputy sheriff.’’
Myers said he understood when DeRosier informed him three years ago that he was returning to Cowlitz County to continue his career.
“I knew family was his highest priority,’’ Myers said. “Most every conversation Justin had somehow included a story about someone in his family.’’
Myers closed with a reading of the poem “A Hero’s Welcome.’’ (You can find that here: https://www.sacredpoems.com/a-heros-welcome/)
Kelly knew DeRosier and his family for most of the officer’s life. The Woodland Police chief coached a 5-year-old DeRosier in T-ball.
“From the minute I met him, it was pretty clear he was a special individual,’’ said Kelly, whose son Colin was one of DeRosier’s closest childhood friends.
Kelly said that at the time of his death, DeRosier had “become an outstanding officer and a hero to his family and community. Kelly was called the night DeRosier was shot and was given the responsibility to inform the officer’s parents of the incident.
“On April 13, I received a phone call no sheriff or police chief ever wants to receive,’’ Kelly said. “It was the most difficult job I had yet to face in the 32 years of law enforcement I had under my belt.’’
Before closing with “rest well, my son,’’ Kelly said “Justin had a positive impact on all he came in contact with. Justin was stolen from us and the impact will be felt for years.’’
After an emotional video slideshow tribute, Ullmann described DeRosier as “an unstoppable force and an advocate for change. We all learned a lot from Justin. He had a passion for learning and loved sharing his knowledge.’’
The Cowlitz County undersheriff also said DeRosier “taught us respect is something to be earned. Because of him, we know it’s OK to hug and cry in public while in uniform. Most importantly, he taught us about humanity. He brought us together as a community and he continues to do so.’’
“We need people who are not perfect, people who work hard to keep their mind open to new opportunities and possibilities,’’ Ullmann said. “Justin approached everything with an open mind and we are all better for it. He loved everyone and I think we all know Justin had the type of personality to make everyone feel like old friends. Justin was proud to be a cop. He loved the tradition and everything that comes with it. Right now, he is looking over us with a grin from ear to ear. Despite this horrific event, I know Justin wouldn’t have changed a thing about his life.’’
The final speaker at the Memorial Service was DeRosier’s close friend Michael Kingsley, who described Justin as a “one of a kind man’’ who “touched so many lives in such a positive way.’’
“Justin would speak the truth, tell you how it is, didn’t matter if you were his elder or his peer,’’ Kingsley said. “We constantly bounced ideas and dreams off each other, tell the hard truths when it was needed. He was always there for anyone who ever needed him. There are so many great people in this world and they all seemed to know Justin by his first name. I’ve witnessed an amazing community come together during this difficult time to give their support for a man who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect his community.’’
Kingsley closed with the nautical blessing, “Fair winds and following seas my brother. We love you.’’