OCALA, Fla. - Five days after a Florida Highway Trooper was killed in the line of duty, thousands of law enforcement officers from around the country gathered to honor her memory and legacy.
Trooper Chelsea Richard, 30, was working a two-car crash on Interstate 75 on Saturday night when she was hit by a pickup truck and killed. Two others died in the crash.
Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi attended Richard's funeral service Thursday afternoon. Police agencies from far and wide were represented at the First Baptist Church of Ocala to celebrate Richard's life.
"This is a very sad day for our agency and for Chelsea's family," FHP Sgt. Tracy Pace said. "We are heartbroken, but we will continue our mission in her honor."
Inside the church, Richard's colleagues and superiors spoke to whom she was as a person and shared their stories. They described her as a dedicated student at the academy who always strove to be better. But most of all, they spoke to how she'd grown as an officer.
For Trooper Hazen Ogden, that realization came when he needed her help in arresting a drug dealer.
"The same young lady who I had witnessed a short time earlier nervously arresting a feeble old woman on oxygen was now standing in front of a violent criminal," Ogden said. "Her hands were steady and her feet were planted in an aggressive stance."
"It became apparent to me and the criminal that she, too, was willing to do whatever it took to take him to jail," Ogden added.
One of the most touching moments came when Richard's father, Bruce Richard, took the podium and talked about how much she loved her 4-year-old son, Clayton. He then read a poem he chose in her memory.
"It is my honor to fight for you, shed not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy. For now, I stand with God," Bruce Richard said.
Another great moment came when they spoke about her love for what she did. They talked about the FHP anniversary badge she wore, given to her by her son and boyfriend.
"On the back, Jamie and Clayton inscribed, 'I love you, Mommy, Clayton,'" said Col. David Brierton, FHP director. "Chelsea wore this badge over her heart every day."
At the request of her family, "Ave Maria" was played. With that special song and the memories of her life shared, her loved ones and fellow officers are certain of one thing: Their friend and hero is never really far away.
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