Trying to make sense of it all

Slain Smithsburg officer remembered by town, family, friends

Slain Smithsburg officer remembered by town, family, friends

December 24, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

WILLIAMSPORT - Whirls of red and blue lit the drizzly night outside Osborne Funeral Home Sunday as police directed the steady stream of relatives, friends, Smithsburg residents and police who came to say goodbye to Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Nicholson and pay their respects to his family.

While family members struggled with the injustice of the gunshot that fatally wounded the 25-year-old officer while he waited for backup Wednesday night, the community also mourned a sense of security they worry might never be the same.

"I think a lot of people think when you come to Smithsburg, you're safe," said resident Samantha Smith, 27. "It's small. Everyone knows each other. But you don't always know someone, even if you think you do."

The incident was a wake-up call for Smith, whose boyfriend, Smithsburg Police Officer Michael Neuland, might have been out with Nicholson if a schedule change hadn't caused him to work a day shift Wednesday, she said.


She said Nicholson was well-liked in the community because he was fair, honest and cheerful.

"I'll never forget his smile," Smith said. "He always had that grin."

Nicholson's positive attitude went a long way with residents like Brian Blickenstaff, 16, a Smithsburg High School dropout.

"He was a good cop," Blickenstaff said. "Nice and friendly and stuff."

That attitude was a character trait that had been with Nicholson since his childhood, said his aunt, Cheryl Pfeiffer.

"He was always laughing, always smiling," said Pfeiffer, who lives in Lancaster, Pa. She said when Nicholson entered the police academy, family members asked if he was sure he wanted to go into something so dangerous, but he was excited about the job and committed to setting the world right.

Nicholson's cousin, Linda Pfeiffer Frush of Williamsport, said she thought the shooting suspect, Douglas Wayne Pryor, should have been behind bars based on his long criminal record.

"It's not fair," Frush said. "He just wanted to do something good for everybody."

Brian Myers of Falling Waters, W.Va., said that as he watched the crowd of people who packed the funeral home Sunday, he was struck by the number of lives impacted by the night's events.

"It's a shame that so many people have to go through so much pain because of one person's selfishness," said Myers, whose daughter knew Nicholson.

Nicholson's friends said he was aware of the danger associated with the job.

"When you put your badge and gun on, you put your life out there," said JC Hoover, 26, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., who graduated from high school with Nicholson and said he was like a brother. "But we never thought it would happen this soon, or ever."

Hoover and another high school buddy, Alan Rubeck, 27, of Boonsboro, hadn't seen Nicholson since the summer, but he had plans to go hunting with Rubeck this weekend, they said.

The visitation also brought law enforcement personnel from throughout the region, including June Musto, a communications officer for the Jackson (N.J.) Police Department.

Musto said she thought dispatchers deserve acknowledgment after a tragedy like this one because of the pressure they face to stay collected while they know one of their own is in trouble.

"We hold our breath every time we send one of our officers on a domestic violence call," she said.

Also among the visitors were dozens of Smithsburg High School students and town residents who knew Nicholson as the officer who always stopped to say hello.

"It's a small town," said Allan Robison, 47, of Smithsburg. "Everybody knows everybody."

It might take some time for the town to recover the sense of order and security that was lost Wednesday, said Bill McPherson, Washington County Sheriff's Department chaplain.

"It's shattered glass," McPherson said. "How do you put it back together again?"

ยท Funeral services for Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Nicholson will be at 11 a.m. today in Williamsport High School's gymnasium, followed by burial at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Williamsport.

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