NEW FLORENCE (KDKA) — A veteran police officer, killed in the line of duty, was honored Friday night in his hometown.
But, casting a shadow over the gathering was the verdict handed down last week in a Westmoreland County Courtroom.
A candlelight vigil and moment of silence were held at a park in the tiny community of New Florence, as a small plaque was dedicated in tribute to a real hometown hero.
“Our first responders are important to us. It’s a healing process… it continues, it’s not ended,” New Florence Mayor Neva Gindlesperger said.
St. Clair Township Police Officer Lloyd Reed, 54, was gunned down in New Florence in 2015 while he was responding to a domestic violence call.
New Florence Police Chief Chad Salley reacted to the large turnout, saying, “It’s very overwhelming to see the support we have here tonight for Officer Reed and his family.”
But, during the gathering, there was a sense of injustice, which resulted in what many felt was a failure of the criminal justice system. That’s because the man who was recently on trial in Officer Reed’s shooting was acquitted on charges of both first- and third-degree murder.
Mike Melikant, a retired Johnstown Police Department sergeant, said, “To me, that [verdict] sent a message that law enforcement must take the first shot before they can return fire. That is ridiculous, that’s a losing battle.”
Vigil organizer Jessica Lovejoy told KDKA-TV News, “We waited two years for a verdict none of us expected. For it to turn out the way it did, it was kind of like a punch in the stomach for all of us.”
Ray Shetler Jr., the man accused of killing Officer Reed was found not guilty on that murder charge last week, but he was convicted on two lesser charges, including theft.