By Beverly T. Gooden,Chrysanthe Warrington,Charmaine Smith
Independent-Mail and Scripps Howard Foundation
WASHINGTON — Two Abbeville,S.C.,families sat in a crowd of 20,000 people May 13 at Judiciary Square here,so they could hear the names of their loved ones — Danny Wilson and Donnie Ouzts — read aloud.
On Dec. 8,Wilson and Ouzts were added to the list of the 145 officers who would die in the line of duty in 2003. They were both killed in shootings that led to a 13-hour standoff with law enforcement officers outside a house on S.C. 72 in Abbeville County.
The standoff led to the arrest of Rita Bixby,her son Steven Bixby and her husband,Arthur Bixby.
May 13 at 8 p.m.,both officers were honored at a candlelight vigil for the 16,600 law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty since 1792.
Their names have been engraved in the 304-foot long blue-gray marble wall that sits on three acres of land,flanked by the capital's Superior Court buildings and the Old Pension Building that is now the National Building Museum.
“It's just remarkable that they are honoring him,” said Wilson's older sister,Marliyn Lee.
Wilson served as a sergeant for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office,and Ouzts was a constable for the Abbeville County Magistrate's Office.
As Lee planned to leave her hotel room for the vigil last week,she said the the family has been “overwhelmed by the support from the community.”
Both the Wilsons and the Ouzts arrived in Washington earlier that day.
Sponsored by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund,the vigil is one of two major ceremonies held last week,recognized as National Police Week since 1962. A wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial was held Saturday.
All 145 families of fallen officers were taken to the vigil by at least four chartered buses — complete with official motorcade — and then walked to their reserved seats.
Despite the special treatment,the trip was still a painful one.
“The Ouzts were more or less dreading the trip because it was going to bring back a lot of bad memories. But they did want to be a part of it,” Abbeville County sheriff's victim's advocate Judy Davis said. She said this year will be the only year the families can hear their loved ones' names read aloud.
Seven members of the Ouzts family attended the vigil,with four more coming in for Saturday's memorial. About six members of the Wilson family attended the vigil.
Enough people to cover two city blocks stood at the square. Uniforms from law enforcement agencies across the country dotted the crowd. Some lined along the wall to look at names while other stood patiently,listening to Attorney General John Ashcroft and the chairman of the memorial fund,Craig Floyd.
At 9 p.m.,the roll call of names began. Crying could be heard throughout the crowd.
“Carved on these walls is the story of America,” Floyd said. “The officers' tragic fate was a life cut short but their award is eternal remembrance.”