This past Sunday evening (January 17, 2021) there was a gathering of caring individuals who wanted to be a part of a memorial service in memory of Danville Police Officer Thomas Cottrell who was murdered on January 17, 2016. I considered it a special privilege to have been involved in that Memorial Remembrance of our fallen brother. This was the first memorial for Tom that I had been able to attend since that fateful Sunday night five years ago on January 17, 2016, due to me living in South Carolina for the past five years.
We all gathered that evening to corporately share in the memory of Officer Tom Cottrell. I am writing this because I want to share with all of you how I remember well the first time Tom walked into our police station. He introduced himself and stated that he was interested in joining our police department and becoming a Danville police officer. He stated that he would accept a full-time, part-time, or auxiliary position, just that he wanted to be involved in contributing to our community as a police officer. The way Tom presented himself immediately caught my attention and I spent some time speaking with him so I could get to know him a little.
After that initial meeting, I was confident that he would have much to contribute to our department and our community. Little did I know that eventually, he would be contributing his life! I set in motion the process to bring him into our department. As the process of bringing Tom onto the department unfolded, everything he needed to do to become eligible, he willing and promptly accomplished and Tom becomes a Danville police officer. Tom made that commitment to serve and protect our community and its citizens and began doing so. Being one of my officers, anything I requested of Tom, he was willing to do. I saw that he had a police officer’s heart! Tom didn’t disappoint me!
I retired as chief of police in November of 2015 and my wife and I moved to South Carolina. I recall painfully, and sorrowfully when my wife woke me up around 1 AM January 18, 2016, informing me that according to information on Facebook a Danville police officer had been shot but no further information was available. I phoned the Knox County dispatcher to find out if this was true, that one of our officers had been shot? Dispatch informed me that ‘yes’ ‘Tom has been shot’.
The dispatcher then said; ‘Monte, he didn’t make it, he was killed’. Upon hearing those words, I immediately cried out saying something to the effect; ‘No!’ ‘No! ‘It can’t be! Oh my!’ ‘Not one of my officers!’ I was sickened to my stomach and broke out in tears just sitting there in numbness. I was flooded with the feelings and thoughts that ‘This is something that happens elsewhere, Not in Danville!’ I remember the feeling and thoughts that this is something no police chief wants to hear. My thoughts went to the devastation that Tom’s family, and loved ones, his fellow officers and his acquaintances, and newly appointed Chief Dan Weckesser would be facing and I remember feeling extreme anger towards the evil person that caused this.
I want people to know that police officers choose to make the commitment of dedicating their lives to those they serve. Some however are fortunate that in making that dedication, it is but just a “particular portion” of their lives be it 20 -30 years or so until retirement. Then there are those police officers, like Officer Thomas Cottrell, who never gets the opportunity to fulfill and complete their service and be able to retire and enjoy their remaining lives with their family, their lives are stolen from us just as Tom’s was.
Like Tom, many police officers have made that ultimate sacrifice of giving their life. Tom gave his life at the hands of a monstrous evil individual who stole his life from him as well as he also stole Tom’s life from his family and all of us and he also stole from us what Tom was so willing to have gone on and contributed and that would have been to have had that opportunity to continue serving and protecting we the people and then when the proper time would come to pass, retire from a full law enforcement career. But we know he didn’t get that chance. My heart still aches because of what transpired five years ago on January 17, 2016. Rest in peace my brother in blue. I salute your memory!
Retd. Chief of Police
Danville Police Department