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Monument unveiled to honor slain officer

June 15, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

SMITHSBURG - About 100 people gathered in Veterans Park in Smithsburg on Saturday to see the unveiling of a memorial to slain Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Shane Nicholson.

During a moving ceremony that drew friends, family, police and fire and rescue personnel, elected officials and dozens of town residents, speakers talked of the need to remember Nicholson's life and his short tenure with the Smithsburg Police Department.

"The night of December 19, 2007, will forever be a part of Smithsburg," said Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers, referring to the night Nicholson was fatally shot while responding to a request for backup from the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Myers said she vowed that night "would not be forgotten."

"The events of today and the following weeks will make sure that happens," Myers said.

Police found Alison Munson, 31, dead in her home on the evening of Dec. 19, 2007. Police have said they received information that Munson's former boyfriend, Douglas Pryor, had harmed her and possibly was headed to his home near Smithsburg.

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Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies en route to the area of Pryor's house on Welty Church Road asked the Smithsburg Police Department for assistance.

Nicholson, the only Smithsburg officer on duty, responded to the request and was waiting for backup in a driveway off Welty Church Road when he was shot.

Pryor is awaiting trial on charges in the deaths of Munson and Nicholson.

During Saturday's ceremony, a stone memorial with a bronze front plate was dedicated in the park. It shows several pictures of Nicholson in uniform and as a child, and one picture of Nicholson, an avid hunter, holding the antlers of a buck.

The memorial also includes the text of "I Am a Warrior" by Jon F. Hooper, a poem that often is used to honor fallen police officers, armed services personnel, firefighters and other emergency services workers.

In honor of Nicholson, his family accepted a Medal of Honor from Smithsburg Police Chief Charles R. Stanford and the Police Officer of the Year award from Dave Ashburn of the Washington County Friends of Education Exchange Club.

Nicholson's mother, Karen Highbarger, called the ceremony "bittersweet."

"It was beautiful, and (Stanford) did a wonderful job," she said.

Stanford, who became Smithsburg's police chief only weeks before Nicholson was shot, admitted he was unsure how best to comfort Nicholson's family.

"I've been through many trials and tribulations, but none like what you've been through," Stanford, who has been a police officer for 27 years, said to family members of Nicholson.

Stanford read several passages from the Bible during his speech, including a verse from Matthew that states, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be sons of God."

"Christopher was a peacemaker," Stanford said.

Nicholson's stepfather, Paul Highbarger, said he was in awe of the perseverance that Nicholson's family has shown since he was shot.

"The dictionary says the word valor means performance under duress," he said. "You all have exemplified that."

Desiree Grimes, Nicholson's fiance, offered her presence as a way of keeping Nicholson in the minds of town leaders and residents as well as his friends and family.

"I only had him for 11 months, and those 11 months were perfect," Grimes said. "If those of you who had him longer have stories to tell, I want to hear them. I want to be here. I want to visit. I want to keep his memory alive."

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