They are fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and sisters and brothers. They served in remote corners of the forests and grasslands, helped lost recreationists find their way and arrested people who were violating the law.
They were our friends and colleagues. But by merely doing their jobs, they lost their lives.
Seven U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations officers are listed among the fallen by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to remembering officers killed in the line of duty. In the U.S., on average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty every 57 hours. The organization notes that since the first known line-of-duty death in 1791, more than 19,000 U.S. law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.
“We remember them every day, but we pay specific homage to them and other fallen officers at this time every year,” said David Ferrell, director of the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations. “We also remember the families and friends of the fallen so that their loss is also recognized. It is with great humility and pride that we honor those Forest Service officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice while caring for the land and serving people. They will never be forgotten.”
Forest Service officers and agents are charged with protecting the public and employees and the natural resources found on the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands from Alaska to Puerto Rico. Law enforcement is essential to the management, use and protection of those lands. Officers and agents are responsible for investigating a wide range of crimes and offenses such as illegal timber harvesting, traffic violations, assaults and threats, marijuana cultivation, wildland fires, destruction and theft of archeological and sacred sites and theft or damage to natural resources and other Forest Service property.
The officers who lost their lives in the line of duty as Forest Service peace officers are:
Jason Crisp and K-9 partner Maros: The duo were killed March 12, 2014, in Burke Country, N.C., by a man local authorities believed killed his father and step-mother. Crisp, a 16-year veteran of the agency, and Maros, were off duty when they heard about the search. They joined other officers in pursuit of the man and were killed after the suspect fired his weapon. The man took Crisp’s gun and fled further into the woods but about two hours engaged in another gun battle with other officers. The suspect shot himself; an officer also shot the suspect, who died. In 2014, a ranger station on the Pisgah National Forest was renamed the Jason Crisp Forest Service Building. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Christopher Upton: Upton was shot and killed March 5, 2010, by a coyote hunter who mistook him for game at the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area in Jasper County, Ga. The shooter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, hindering a federal investigation and hunting violations. Upton served with the agency for four years and previously had worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and as a game warden for the Department of Defense at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. He is survived by a wife and a daughter.
Kristine Marie Fairbanks: Fairbanks was shot and killed September 20, 2008, while investigating a suspicious vehicle without a license plate on a Forest Service road on the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington. The suspect fled the scene and later killed a man while stealing his truck. Several hours after Fairbanks was shot, her assailant was killed in a shootout with Clallam County, Wash., deputies. She had served with the Forest Service for 22 years and is survived by a husband and daughter.
Michael Lee Staples: Staples was on patrol on the Chippewa National Forest when he was killed September 4, 2002, when his patrol vehicle collided early in the morning with a deer that had just been struck by another vehicle in Beltrami County, Minn. After being hit by the first vehicle, the deer was thrown into the air and went through the windshield of Staples’ patrol truck. He was a U.S. Air Force veteran and had served with the Forest Service for 8 years. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Stephen Allen Bowman: Bowman was killed June 24, 1998, when the National Guard helicopter he was in crashed in Tennessee during a reconnaissance flight to locate marijuana plants. The helicopter crashed in a remote mountain area and wasn't found for three days. Officer Bowman had served in law enforcement for 13 years. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Brent K. Jacobson: Jacobson was shot and killed Jan. 12, 1989, in Bonner County, Idaho, during a 23-hour manhunt in waist-high snow in a snowstorm to find two robbery suspects. Jacobson, experienced in tracking and cold-weather conditions, took the lead during the pursuit and was accompanied by several local deputies. When he spotted the suspects in an ambush, he quickly alerted the other officers to take cover. He then identified himself to the suspects, who began firing their weapons striking him several times. Jacobson returned fire and was able to wound the suspects, but later died from his wounds. One of the men was sentenced to death; the other to life.
Harmon O. Schwoob: Schwoob was shot and killed Sept. 20, 1941, while attempting to arrest a poacher in the Angeles National Forest in California. Schwoob, who was at home and off duty, responded to a request from another ranger to help pursue the poacher. They caught up with him on a dead-end street in Azusa. As Schwoob approached with gun drawn, the man opened fire with a .30-.30 lever action rifle, striking him. The man then surrendered to the other ranger. The man later claimed that he thought he was being robbed by the two uniformed officers. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to a short prison term. Schwoob was survived by his wife.
Rudolf E. Mellenthin: Mellenthin was shot and killed Aug. 23, 1918, when he and two San Juan County, Utah, deputies tried to arrest an Army deserter in the La Sal National Forest. Mellenthin advised the man he was under arrest, and the man initially appeared to cooperate, but suddenly raised his rifle and shot Mellenthin twice from just five feet away. A friend of the suspect also opened fire, shooting Mellenthin once in the chest. Although mortally wounded, Ranger Mellenthin was able to return fire and wound the suspect. The first man was sentenced to life but paroled after only six years. The second suspect was convicted but later had his conviction overturned. Ranger Mellenthin had been with the agency for nine years and was survived by his wife and children.