Hundreds of names to be added to National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

A small plastic tent, some 5 feet wide and barely tall enough to stand in, has been stationed in front of Northwest D.C.’s National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

Inside the tent, a solemn undertaking is taking place.

With about a month to go until Police Week, work is underway to engrave the 556 new names being added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial near Judiciary Square.

The number of new names being added to the wall this year is down from last year, but still higher than normal. Many, though not as many as last year, are also related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The process started with a brief prayer and a few words from leaders of the memorial, as well as Fairfax County Chief of Police Kevin Davis.

Then, a Lorton man brought a sandblaster inside the tent and got to work, engraving some of the first names being added this year.

“It’s an honor,” said Tim Johnston, of Rugo Stone in Lorton. This is the third time he’s been chosen to handle the delicate engraving process. “I hate to come down here to do it, but I like to do it.”

Although he is engraving fewer names than last year, Johnston said he’d like to see still fewer names.

“I have people I know on here too,” Johnston said. Last year among the names he engraved was the friend of his brother-in-law. “There’s a big honor for me in it.”

The hardest work happens before the actual engraving, when he’s preparing.

“Blasting it is the easy part,” he admitted. It’s getting everything just right, and then cleaning up after that makes the difference.

“First, we put a rubber stencil down. They send us the layout drawings, and we create it on a plotter out of a sandblast rubber,” Johnston said.

“You have to pick each letter out after it’s cut on a plotter. Then, we position the mask to the stone where it needs to go and put some protection rubber around it.”

Than he uses a sandblast pot with 80 grit sand and “blast it in there until we get the required depth that we want.”

The small print used to mark each name is sandblasted in because it would be harder to hand-cut them deep enough into the stone with as much precision.

Of the 556 new names being added, 224 were from the 2022 calendar year. Bill Alexander, the executive director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said 63 of the 224 were officers shot and killed by somebody, while 51 died in crashes.

“Every single one of those names has a story, has a family, has a department, an agency, co-workers, friends,” Alexander said. “All of us in this country, I believe, have a duty to remember, to think about, to pause and reflect on the men and women who sacrificed so much for us.”

The leading cause of death was COVID-19 once again, with 74 officers contracting the virus on the job last year. The total number of officers whose deaths are related to COVID-19 is 207. Another 61 deaths are related to illnesses contracted by law enforcement officers who responded to the Sept. 11 attack.

As Johnston paused to talk about his work, two new, freshly engraved names could be seen inside the tent. The first is 29-year-old Miami-Dade Officer Cesar Echaverry Jr., who was shot and killed last year while chasing an armed robbery suspect. Right next to him is the name Christopher Taylor, a Charlotte County, Florida, sheriff’s deputy, who was 23 when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver last year.

“Somebody sacrificed themselves for us, and it’s an honor for me to be able to honor them,” Johnston said. “It’s just a wonderful way to remember and hopefully in the future we can keep less names off.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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