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Thousands mourn fallen officer

February 02, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Jeffery Alan Wroten "is in the hands of his God now" and so is the man who killed him, James Fugate said Wednesday as he addressed the slain Roxbury Correctional Institution officer's family, friends and fellow correctional officers who filled a Martinsburg church for his memorial service.

About 2,000 people ? the majority of whom were correctional officers and employees at Maryland prisons ? attended Wroten's memorial service at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Correctional officers not only filled the small chapel itself, but lined the church's hallways, filled a separate room and sat on available couches and chairs. A large group also stood outside, including nearly 100 prison color guard members from states as far as Arizona and Oregon, who lined the sidewalks and the church entrance.

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Wroten, 44, a four-year Maryland Division of Correction veteran and father of five, died Friday, a day after he was shot in the face, allegedly by the inmate he was guarding at Washington County Hospital.

A funeral service will be held today in Parkersburg, W.Va., where Wroten's remains will be buried.

Division of Correction Spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett, who has been asked to be the family's spokeswoman, said, "On behalf of the family, they are just amazed and overwhelmed by all of the support from the public, the department and the local law enforcement in Maryland and West Virginia, most of all the support they've received from RCI and staff."

Fugate, a former bishop, told the crowd, "You're angry. You're mad. You want justice just as much as I do. You want vengeance perhaps ... Life is simply not fair, but eternity is fair.

"The Lord has declared vengeance is his. Frankly, I can't think of anyone better to fill that role," he said.

After the service, Wroten's casket was carried to a hearse as his family sobbed and as nearly 100 color guard members stood at attention. The eight pallbearers took short steps and called out orders, synchronizing their movements.

Maryland Division of Correction Commissioner Frank C. Sizer Jr. ordered lockdowns at the state's prisons through this morning to allow officers to attend the service.

He addressed those officers at the church Wednesday.

"There are no words that I can express which will ease the sorrow that is felt today ... The chain is broken, but it can be mended," he said.

"I'm a better person for having known Jeff," Roxbury Warden Rod Sowers said. "As Jeff looks upon us today, I know we have made him proud, as I know he has made us proud."

Wroten was "a humble man," who loved Jesus Christ "with all his heart," said Roy Young, who delivered the eulogy Wednesday about his friend and fellow churchmember.

Talking about "the boy" and "the man," Young said Wroten's father died when Wroten was 7 years old. His childhood neighbor, "Sarge" ? a retired military man ? got Wroten a toy gun, which "probably set Jeff on the road to public service."

In the prison, correctional officers had given Wroten the nickname "Shrek" after the lovable cartoon movie character ? a large green ogre with a big heart.

Fugate shared a poem written by Tom Ressler when a fellow correctional officer died in a car accident. The poem described a man, upon reaching heaven's gates, who was told by Saint Peter that there was no room for him.

Saint Peter "read the bottom line" and changed his mind, saying, "Please take him Lord. For he's been a prison guard on Earth, he's seen his share of hell."

Members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar, Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith and Washington County Sheriff's Department Col. Doug Mullendore and Strong attended the service.

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