Slain state trooper saluted

At the end of 'dark, cold and painful week,' a private burial


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FRANKLIN, Pa. -- On a grim, gray day, when it never did stop raining, Carrie Cornell clutched the tightly folded American flag that had draped the coffin of her slain husband and guided her two small children to the limousine that awaited them.

Pausing, she looked across the car to the members of Pennsylvania State Police Troop E, her husband's colleagues, as they stood at attention in the parking lot of Franklin Area High School, stiffly saluting.

She blew them a kiss.

Speakers during yesterday's funeral for state police Trooper Paul G. Richey, 40, who was shot and killed in the line of duty last Wednesday, noted that two families were touched by the tragedy -- his loved ones and the officers with whom he served.

"When Paul joined the Pennsylvania State Police, he knew he wasn't just taking a call," Troop E state police Chaplain Brian Kelly told his fellow law enforcement officers. "He was fulfilling a calling. ... You, too, joined to serve, to use your God-given talents to make a difference in the world. In the course of day-to-day realities, sometimes we forget that. ... And then people like Paul remind us of the truth about why we do what we do.

"Paul did not have to go on that ill-fated call Wednesday. It wasn't his zone, it wasn't his responsibility. ... He could have just stayed at the station and let someone else deal with it. But that's not what being a trooper is all about. And it's not what Paul was about. Paul gave his life that day, fulfilling the sacred duty of serving those in danger and distress."

Law enforcement officers and emergency responders from across the commonwealth and many other states were among the more than 1,000 mourners crowded into the high school auditorium for yesterday's funeral. Another 1,000 people took seats in the school gymnasium, where they watched a television feed of the service. Among the dignitaries in attendance were local elected officials, community leaders and state Attorney General Tom Corbett.

The service began with the wives of Troop E officers filing into the auditorium, each wearing a corsage and the bravest of smiles.

They were followed by the Richey family members, including Trooper Richey's son, Conner, 9, and his daughter, Catherine, 6, cradling an oversized teddy bear.

Then came the nearly 300 members of Troop E, which patrols the northwest corner of the state, squeezing their broad backs into the auditorium's narrow seats.

Trooper Scott Mohnkern, who served with Trooper Richey, spoke at the service, sharing memories collected from the troopers in the Franklin barracks.

"Paul was a great trooper," Trooper Mohnkern said, his voice breaking. "It was amazing how he always remained calm, cool and collected, no matter what the situation. In stressful situations, Paul had a calming effect that resonated to the rest of us.

"Paul also was quick to volunteer. I can picture Paul sitting at the other end of the patrol room, swiveling to the left in his chair, and saying, 'I'll go with you. I know who we're dealing with.' "

Trooper Richey volunteered to accompany Trooper Jason Whitman to the scene of a domestic disturbance Wednesday morning, police said, when Michael J. Smith, 44, fired a shot from a window in his Cranberry Township home, killing Trooper Richey. Police later found Mr. Smith and his wife, Nancy Frey-Smith, 53, dead in their home.

"Paul was all that was great," Trooper Mohnkern told his fellow troopers from the pulpit in the auditorium. "He had his priorities straight. God, his family, and his duties as a dedicated trooper.

"If you want to honor Paul, then I challenge you today to examine your life. If you want to honor Paul, you need to be like Paul. Love Jesus Christ, just as Paul did. Take time for your kids and your family, as Paul did. And walk through your everyday life, unselfishly, just as Paul did."

Pastor David Janz of the Christ United Methodist Church, which the Richey family regularly attends, noted how in a small community like Franklin, people get to know each other. They celebrate holidays together, and they mourn tragedies together.

"It has been a dark and cold and painful week," the Rev. Janz said. "And the night may yet last a while for us. But I want to say to the Richey family, to the Nancy Frey-Smith family, I want to say to the Franklin community, sisters and brothers, the sun will shine again. Morning will come."

The service, replete with somber songs of Christian faith and words of comfort and prayer, concluded with a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps and the accompaniment of bagpipe players from the Pittsburgh Police Bureau.

The final salute was a state police helicopter fly-over in which the helicopter stationed at the Troop E barracks peeled off in the missing man formation.

Trooper Richey's family requested that many of the ceremonial traditions that might have taken place at the gravesite be conducted at the high school so that the burial could be private.


Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. First Published January 18, 2010 5:00 AM


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