Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you. I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to the inspiring life and courageous work of Josie Wells; a man—a patriot—who gave his life in the service of his country. And I am honored to stand among so many friends, colleagues and family members who are proud to call this true American hero their own.
I bring with me today condolences contained in a message addressed to Deputy Marshal Wells’ wife—which I would like to read to you now:
“Dear Channing: Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of Josie’s tragic passing, and we extend our heartfelt condolences as you mourn his loss. As a Deputy United States Marshal, Josie devoted himself to keeping America safe and upholding the laws and ideals that make us who we are. America is forever grateful to the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way for people across our nation, and we honor your husband for his courageous and selfless service. In the difficult days ahead, may you find solace in your cherished memories and comfort in the support of loved ones. Please know you and your entire family will remain in my thoughts and prayers. Sincerely, President Barack Obama.”
I stand with the president—and with all of you—in mourning this loss. To Deputy Marshal Wells’s wife, Channing; to his father, Obie, and his mother, Sherry; to his brothers and sisters; and to the entire U.S. Marshals family—thank you for allowing me to share in this moment with you; to grieve for a young man taken from us far too suddenly and far too soon; and to celebrate an extraordinary life lived with abiding love, with compassionate purpose, and with deep and uncommon valor.
Today we remember Deputy Marshal Wells for all that he was, both to those within this church and to the many he inspired far beyond these walls. To his friends in Hurley, Mississippi, he was a kid with a million-dollar smile whose adventurous style and audacious horse-riding lived up to his name, which his father chose based on “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” To the young people who still live in his old neighborhood, he was a hometown boy made good whose visits to East Central High School called on them to follow their passions and serve their community. And to the members of the United States Marshals Service—the oldest and most storied law enforcement agency in the nation—he was a young leader of extraordinary vigor and unlimited promise, determined to serve his fellow citizens and destined to achieve great things.
Every day for more than four years—first in Missouri, and more recently in Mississippi—Deputy Marshal Wells proudly wore the badge of the U.S. Marshals Service, as he defended our system of law and pursued fugitives from justice. He knew well the risk involved in his work, but he did not hesitate to put his own life on the line in order to protect the country he loved. And the importance of his efforts, and those of his colleagues—in maintaining order; in keeping the peace; in apprehending dangerous criminals; and in safeguarding our system of justice—would be difficult to overstate.
I want to take this moment to convey my gratitude to the courageous men and women of the U.S. Marshals Service who are here with us, and to their colleagues around the country, for everything that you do. From the earliest days of this nation, your efforts have been essential to this country’s progress, and vital to its most important achievements. Through our most difficult chapters, you have stood, “first for justice,” as a force for good. The loss that we mark today is a devastating reminder that the work that you do to keep Americans safe is extremely serious, enormously important, and deeply heroic. I and the entire Department of Justice family stand with this community—not just today, but every day—as we work to prevent tragedies like the one that took our colleague and our friend.
Of course, while Deputy Marshal Wells was a remarkable officer, he was not defined solely by his profession. He was also a son, proudly following a path into law enforcement that his father had laid before him. He was a devoted husband to Channing, his college sweetheart, who spurred him on to achieve his most ambitious dreams. And he was a loving father to a child not yet born—a son who will be named Josie Wells Jr., in honor of a hero who gave his “last full measure of devotion” in the service of his country. Josie Jr. will enter a world without his namesake. And it will be up to every one of us to share with him the story of his father’s extraordinary life.
We will tell him that his father was a man who believed in the importance of justice, of integrity and of service. We will talk about his father’s commitment to the sacred mission that we all share, and the indomitable courage with which he carried it out. And we will do our part—all of us—to carry on his father’s legacy; to serve our communities and our country with honor, with distinction and with pride; and to make this world the place that Josie Wells imagined not only for his son—but also for the sons and daughters of his countrymen.
I know that there are no words that can ease the pain that we all feel, or that can fill the void that this tragedy has left behind. I know that this is a heartbreak that feels unbearable. But we will bear it together, with the knowledge that Deputy Marshal Wells will live on—in the example he set for law enforcement at all levels, in every community; in the lives he touched and the people he inspired, in his hometown and across the nation; and in the cherished memories of those who knew him best and loved him most, and who stand together for him today.
As we take him to his rest today I would ask that you remember this true American hero not for how he lost his life but for how he lived it—with faith, with compassion and with the joy that only those who truly give, truly give, can ever really experience. This was a good and decent man—an example to us all.
May he rest in peace.