Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
As Regina mentioned, we’ve just had a chance to visit with President Bush in the Oval Office. I was in that extraordinary room many times when I worked in the White House, but few occasions have been as special as this one…because I had the honor of introducing five brave officers to the President.
He made it very clear how much he appreciates their service and sacrifice. So do I. And so do the American people you help every single day.
Here at the Justice Department, we are constantly striving to make our communities more secure, to safeguard our neighborhoods from crime and violence, and to protect the rights and liberties of every American.
We’re trying to follow the example set by these individuals – and the fine public safety community they represent. Every American sleeps better knowing that we have men and women in uniform – from military fatigues to police blues to firemen’s jackets – standing guard, keeping watch, and preserving our safety.
Of course, we are here today to further honor officers who went above and beyond the call of duty – putting their own lives at risk – to earn this mark of heroism.
Their stories, which we will hear in more depth in a moment, cannot be repeated enough.
Cries for help. Heavy gunfire. Daring rescues. Courageous acts of selflessness.
These officers sacrificed themselves, so that others could be safe. They made split-second, instinctive decisions – under great pressure – to help others without regard for their own life or safety. These extraordinary acts of valor are nothing short of heroic. That is why I am so proud that these five individuals have been recognized with the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor.
One of these brave men is Bryan Hurst. Officer Hurst was killed in the line of duty as he traded fire with an armed robber while on special duty at a neighborhood bank. He made the ultimate sacrifice as he pursued the fleeing suspect through a lobby of innocent bystanders – none of whom were harmed or injured thanks to his heroism.
Officer Hurst’s wife, Sheriff’s Deputy Marissa Hurst, and his daughter Malia, are here with us today to accept the Medal on his behalf. The Nation has lost a brave officer, and we join the entire Hurst family in celebrating the life of an extraordinary son, father, and husband.
I should note that last week, in Ohio, a federal jury imposed the death penalty for Officer Hurst’s killer. I’m proud that many members of the Justice Department could play a role in bringing some measure of closure to this terrible tragedy. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David DeVillers and Michael Burns are with us today. They prosecuted only the second federal death penalty case in the history of the Southern District of Ohio.
It is telling that Marissa Hurst saw this death sentence not simply as redemption for her family, but as a victory for police officers everywhere.
Of course, it is not just the sacrifices of our law enforcement officers that we honor today. It is often their families who shoulder additional burdens.
That’s why I’d like to recognize the families who are here today or who may be home waiting again for your return. Across the country, it is wives, mothers, and daughters… husbands, fathers, and sons who themselves are heroic in their support of the fine men and women protecting all of us. They serve our Nation, too.
My brother, Tony, is a SWAT officer in the Houston Police Department. And I know that my sister-in-law, Kris, hugs him each day knowing the dangers he faces with every shift.
She lets him go because she knows – as each of the families here today know – that we need these brave men and women in the fight against terrorism, violent crime, dangerous drugs, and countless other threats to our communities.
We have considerable work ahead that requires our attention and our energy. But the example of today’s award winners shows that we have what it takes to achieve great things in the service of justice.
On behalf of the President and the American people, let me once again extend my deepest congratulations to these five brave public servants. You are the strength and hope of our Nation. And your service and sacrifice are changing our beloved America for the better.
May God watch over you and your families, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.