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'Quite a tribute'

February 03, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Martinsburg High School students Tuesday afternoon did not need any instruction when the funeral procession for Martinsburg Police Department Patrolman Roger E. "J.R." Butcher traveled past the South Queen Street campus where he worked as a school resource officer.

"They just automatically ... became quiet," Principal Regina Phillips said of the school's 1,731 students, which were allowed to leave class to show respect for Butcher and his family.

Butcher, 30, of Martinsburg, died Thursday, a little more than a year after being diagnosed with melanoma, a form of skin cancer.

"He's connected to all of us right on this street," Phillips said.

The students, including those dismissed from nearby Martinsburg South Middle and Berkeley Heights Elementary schools, saw law enforcement and emergency vehicles from many of the Eastern Panhandle's police departments and beyond slowly motor past the campuses.

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At the elementary school, students held flags, many handmade, according to Principal Amber Boeckmann.

Butcher's untimely death presented an opportunity to teach students a lesson in respect and both principals said separately that the children were on their best behavior.

The tribute was stirring to those in the procession, which included police from Ohio County, W.Va., Frederick County, Va., and Fairfax County, Va.

"I'm 75 years old and I've never seen anything like this," Martinsburg City Councilman Max G. Parkinson said after the service ended at Pleasant View Memory Gardens off Charles Town Road. "Quite a tribute."

Butcher's struggle with cancer prompted an outpouring of community support, fundraising efforts and prayers that a family spokesperson said Tuesday was greatly appreciated.

Diagnosed in November 2007, Butcher hoped to be able to return to his post at the high school from which he graduated in 1997.

At noon, Parkinson was among an estimated crowd of 800 to 900 at Butcher's funeral service at the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center.

Tears flowed before the service began just after noon.

Police chaplain Carroll Williams said Butcher's sudden passing was understandably difficult to comprehend or accept, but insisted his death was not in vain.

"We know God's in control and greater good will come of this," Williams said.

Williams recognized Butcher's appreciation for "all the little gadgets that came with the job" of being a police officer, but noted the nine-year veteran of the city's police department loved people more.

"J.R. was a friend to many people and I was no exception," Williams said.

The Rev. Malcolm Cadd said Butcher had tremendous faith in God and was a man of hope who loved people.

"He had a great love for those kids," Cadd said.

Many admired him, too.

A Martinsburg High student skipped school to visit Butcher at the hospital, and left a note telling the officer that he had no idea how much he meant to the teenager, said Cadd, who read the note at the funeral service.

"I looked to you as a role model and I always will," Cadd shared.

Though Butcher's life was cut short, Cadd said he had a lasting impact on people, similar to the relatively short lives of poet John Keats, painter Raphael and Jesus Christ.

"J.R. was a gift from God," said Cadd, who encouraged those in mourning to think about the influence Butcher had on their lives.

"He had no doubt about his salvation," Cadd said.

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