Thousands of mourners say goodbye to fallen North Country trooper
FORT DRUM — Three years ago, Rochester police Lt. Naser Zenelovic had to go through the sorrow of losing a colleague in the line of duty.
That’s why he knew the importance for him and seven other Rochester police officers to honor fallen state trooper Joel Davis at his funeral at Fort Drum on Saturday.
“We’re here to support the family and to support the state police,” he said.
Davis, 36, killed while responding to a domestic dispute at a Teresa home on Sunday night, was laid to rest in a fitting salute for the veteran officer who served all of his 15 years in law enforcement in Jefferson County. Also killed was Nichole Walters, wife of alleged shooter Justin Walters.
He was the first law enforcement officer in Jefferson County to die in the line of duty in the past 30 years. (Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Davis was the first state trooper killed in the North Country.)
About 4,000 law enforcement officers from across the country joined family, friends and local dignitaries to say goodbye to the fallen hero. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was among those in attendance.
In what was a final roll call for their brother in gray, officers — including a large contingent of state police troopers and investigators — took up more than half of the large gymnasium at Magrath Sports Complex on Fort Drum.
State police Superintendent George P. Beach II and Pastor Shane Ryan, a Watertown City Police officer, gave touching eulogies for Davis, describing him as a devoted husband and father and someone who did a lot of good for the community.
“Joel knew this was a place he could make a difference, and he was good at it,” he said.
And the trooper made a difference on the night he was killed.
The superintendent praised Davis’s heroism in response to the shooting on county Route 46, Theresa, that resulted in the loss of his life.
“He ran toward gunfire to protect the innocent and prevent further bloodshed,” he said. “That is a trooper. That is a hero. That is bravery.”
With the sound of bagpipes in the background, long lines of officers that formed in the gym parking lot stood at attention as soon as Davis’s flag-draped casket came into view and out to the waiting black hearse.
Ryan Waite, one of his pallbearers, was the second trooper at the scene on Sunday night and arrested the accused killer. The fallen trooper was his field training officer, the mentor who showed him how to serve the public and what it takes to be in law enforcement.
Hidden behind a large puffy, white cloud, the sun came out and shined a ray of light down just as the fallen trooper’s wife and three children left the 90-minute memorial service.
Davis’s gray and blue uniform shirts, handcuffs, his patch and a purple and white insignia were displayed in shadow boxes on each side of his casket, sharing space with the hats he wore while on duty.
In his eulogy, Ryan tried to ease mourners’ pain with humor, telling stories about the trooper’s youth and his relationships with family members.
Ryan recalled that Davis was a family man who protected his brother Joshua, loved his children Trenton, Caden and Jaila, and cared for his wife Suzanne. He got a warm bath ready for her before she came home from those tough days at work.
“He always knew what to do when she had a rough day, or she was stressed out,” Ryan said.
Beach also stressed the trooper’s dedication to his family, at one point resigning from the state police academy to return home.
“He was willing to give up his dream to be with his loved ones,” he said.
Davis later returned to the academy and graduated on time with his class. In a rare occurrence, all four years of his time with the state police were in his home district, the superintendent said.
Ryan said Davis loved dancing with his children to songs from gangsta rapper Notorious B.I.G., and playing them in miniature golf.
“He was the champ at that,” Pastor Ryan said.
The pastor remembered how Trooper Davis knew how to have fun in some unusual places, recalling games of 2-on-2 football in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s.
He said being there at the hospital on Sunday for the Davis family as they learned what happened “was one of the worst experiences you can imagine.”
However, it reminded him that Davis, his family and grieving law enforcement were with each other in their time of sorrow.
“You realize you never walk alone,” he said.
They weren’t alone on Saturday afternoon.
Thousands of law enforcement officers — some coming from as far away as California, Utah and the Carolinas — made sure of that.
Also in attendance were representatives of the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Zenelovic, of the Rochester Police Department, recalled the “massive showing” for his late colleague Daryl Pierson after the officer was gunned down while helping to apprehend a suspect in 2014.
It was the same kind showing from officers, who crammed into an arena in Rochester to pay their respect.
California Highway Patrol officer Marc Shaw not only traveled across the country to be there but was forced to drive up from Philadelphia after his flight got canceled, and had to rent a car just to attend the funeral.
“We’re a close-knit group,” he said.
Capt. Christopher Paris came to honor Davis with a small group of Pennsylvania State Police officers while grieving for one of their own. A Pennsylvania trooper was killed while on duty Friday in a violent crash with a garbage truck.
Attending fallen officers is a responsibility Paris has fulfilled before. He’ll do it again.
“It’s all too often,” he said.
On Tuesday, he’ll go to the funeral in Pennsylvania for the trooper who died in that crash, he said.
Reporter Gordon Block contributed to this story.