IMPD honor guard maintains vigil over fallen officer

Mike Laird visits the grave of his son, Jake, a fallen IMPD officer.
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The funeral for a fallen police officer is rich with ceremony and tradition. The IMPD honor guard plays a pivotal and visible role. No one knows this better than Mike and Debbie Laird.

"To them it's a fallen officer," said Debbie. "To us, it's our child and you have this whole team of people who are just paying the utmost respect and honor to our child so it means everything."

Their son, Officer Jake Laird, was gunned down August 18, 2004. The honor guard took care not only of Jake, but his family's worries.

"You don't find out what happens until afterwards, like they polished Jake's shoes," recalled Mike. "They pressed his uniform. They dressed him to make him look as good as they can."

"By the time the family arrives, they may or may not know it, but there has been several hours of work put into everything just to make sure it's as perfect as it can be," explained Lt. Don Wellheimer, Commander of the IMPD honor guard.

Tragically, duty has called once again with the death of IMPD officer Rod Bradway. 

"The honor guard shows up once we have been informed an officer has died," said Commander Wellheimer.

Immediately, officers will stay with their fallen brother until burial. Honor guard members stand guard at the officer's side during the visitation.

For the funeral, they carry the casket, escort the caisson at Crown Hill and fold the American flag for the family. Finally, as commander, Lt. Wellheimer has one last duty to stay graveside. "I will be here until the family is ready to leave. If that will be an hour after the funeral, then so be it," he said.

Lt. Wellheimer has been with the Indianapolis Police Department's honor guard for 20 years. 

"I do it because they deserve it," he said. "They are heroes, and it's the least that we can do. It's the least we can do."

At the same time, a memorial surrounding his patrol car is another of the ways that Officer Bradway is being honored. It was placed at Northwest District Headquarters just hours after his death on Friday, and has now become a true community memorial for the sacrifice of a civil servant.

Two officers are constantly guarding Officer Bradway's body, according to Wellheimer. "There are two officers up there, sitting with him, making sure he is never alone until he's actually in the ground."

The ranks of the honor guard have grown smaller over the years, but there is a state Fraternal Order of Police bereavement team that assists line of duty deaths.

And those actions are never forgotten.