Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Candlelight Vigil
May 13, 2002

(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)

     Thank you, Craig. You have made this vigil a magnificent tribute to the men and women of law enforcement who made the ultimate sacrifice.

     Thanks to all of you who traveled from every corner of America to be here tonight. Your presence is a testament to the fellowship of law enforcement, and to the men and women we honor tonight.

     A nation's character is revealed by the men and women it remembers and honors.

     For generations, in murals and paintings, statues and sculptures, even among the constellations that glimmer in the sky above, man has immortalized those whose bravery, sacrifice and service set them apart.

     Tonight, candlelight will mirror the stars of heroes in the sky. Our lights signify remembrance of peacekeepers past and present - the men and women who proudly wear the star of justice as a badge of honor.

     Tonight, we remember the courage of men and women like Bureau of Indian Affairs Criminal Investigator Kevin William Schultz.

     On August 17, 2002, Officer Schultz was off duty on the banks of the Rio Grande River. There, he heard the cries of a 12-year-old child who had been swept into the river's fast-moving current. Officer Schultz jumped in, saved the child, but tragically was unable to save himself.

     We remember Chief Deputy Sharon Joann Barnes of Dent County, Missouri. On December 10, 2002, Chief Deputy Barnes responded to a disturbance call. Deputy Barnes arrived on the scene to find two people shot to death, and proceeded to the home of the suspected shooter. When she knocked on the front door, the suspect opened fire. Deputy Barnes was mortally wounded.

     We remember Officer Joseph Jerome Daniels. Last November 8, he was off duty, enjoying dinner in Birmingham, Alabama. When a robber entered the restaurant, Officer Daniels took action. A struggle ensued. Officer Daniels was shot several times while attempting to subdue the robber. Still, Daniels chased the suspect out of the building before succumbing to his wounds.

     This country has seen the call to duty answered many times, in many places, by many people. Last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, 148 officers died when answering the call to serve and to protect.

     On this night of reverence, in this hallowed place, we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending the Rule of Law. They were mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and co-workers. They fell in the line of duty.

     We commend their service. We offer heartfelt prayers. We send a message that we will never forget the principles of freedom and justice they defended.

     To all of you who wear the badge, know that we appreciate the sacrifices you make so that our communities are safer and more secure.

     We are proud to work with you to ensure the lives of your fallen comrades were not lost in vain. We are working to ensure that law enforcement is making a difference.

     Criminals with guns murder more than 10,000 people each year. For every fatal shooting, there are roughly three non-fatal shootings. These figures are tragic. They are worse when we are reminded that two-thirds of all gun crimes are committed by repeat offenders. These are criminals who have slipped through the justice system to harm our citizens and put our public safety officers at risk.

     But in 2002, 10,634 defendants were charged in the federal system for violating gun statutes - the largest number ever prosecuted. 7,747 criminals who use guns have been convicted - the largest number ever convicted in a single year.

     Since 2001, federal gun-crime prosecutions have increased 38 percent. We are taking gun-toting thugs off the streets. We are putting repeat offenders behind bars - and keeping them there.

     Law enforcement is also getting drugs off the streets. In 2002, seizures of drug assets from major drug traffickers were up 20 percent. We dismantled 305 drug trafficking organizations.

     Through our 93 Anti-Terrorism Task Forces across the country, federal, state and local law enforcement officers are working to prevent acts of terrorism on our shores. We are working together successfully to keep America safe.

     These successes would not be possible were it not for you, the justice family, who staunchly defend the line between chaos and civilization. Where there is a diminished respect for life, police defend it. Where liberties are denied or abused, law enforcement helps right the wrong. Where criminals believe their actions have no consequences, public safety officers hold them accountable.

     This memorial is a stark reminder that our safety and freedom comes at a high cost. The names of 16,304 law enforcement officers line this memorial.

     These names represent some of America's finest. They served as officers of the law and keepers of the peace. They gave their lives to protect our freedoms.

     In this memorial - with the names of their law enforcement brethren surrounding them - our fallen heroes will always be remembered, and they will never be alone.

     To the families of these brave, selfless men and women, you, too, are not alone. You are held in the collective embrace of the law enforcement family surrounding you now. We will not forget you.

     The Department of Justice supports you through such programs as the Public Safety Officers Educational Assistance Program. It provides dependents of public safety officers either killed or disabled in the line of duty with financial assistance for their educations.

     Soon this plaza will be illuminated. Thousands of flames will reflect the shared eternal light that shines in our hearts in memory of the men and women who mark this memorial.

     They died as they lived. Serving justice. Protecting liberty and freedom. Preserving peace.

     Thank you. God bless our law enforcement officers. God bless you, and God bless America.