10-10-2017 - In The Line of Fire, Charleston Vernonlewis Hartfield - Class of 2001
In The Line of Fire Charleston Hartfield - Class of 2001 Las Vegas Shooting, Fallen Officer
USA Today, October 6th 2017
by Yihyun Jeong
Las Vegas - He wore an oversized cowboy hat and a black shirt with cut-off sleeves while his police uniform and badge lay neatly folded at home.
It was a yearly tradition for Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officer Charleston Hartfield, 34, to attend the Route 91 Harvest music festival with his wife. Leaving their two young children behind, he could let loose and have some off-duty fun.
Photos from the weekend show him enjoying a deep-fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and taking selfies with his high school sweetheart, their faces lit from the neon lights of the Vegas Strip.
But when the first spray of bullets rained down on the festival from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Sunday night, Hartfield "immediately took action to save lives," said Clark County Undersheriff Kevin McMahill at a press conference on Tuesday.
Moving fast and with authority, he worked to escort people safely out the packedvenue as the barrage of bullets continued to fall around them. He looked around to assess the grounds and to the sky to help other officers locate the shooter before more lives could be taken.
Then, a bullet found its next target; Hartfield. No one would argue he didn't die in the line of duty.
"He ultimately gave his life protecting others," McMahill said.
But on Thursday evening, few words were spoken about the final moments of Hartfield's life or what could have led gunman Stephen Paddock to unleash the terror that ultimately killed 57 others and injured hundred more.
Instead, family, friends, fellow officers and the community packed Police Memorial Park, whispering words of comfort in tearful hugs and honoring the 11-year police veteran they called "the most American man."
Police chaplains passed flowers and candles to the crowd as they started to break away from personal conversations to come together as one, awaiting the arrival of Hartfield's wife, Veronica, and their children, Isaiah and Savannah.
Chaplain Raymond Giddens said he and fellow chaplains have worked around the clock to provide comfort and therapy for Metro police officers. However, officers hadn't had the necessary time to reflect on the loss while continuing to respond to Sunday's shootings throughout the week.
"Tonight, for some, is the first time they're allowed to comprehand that he is truly gone," Giddens said.
Those who have been able to talk, Chaplain Jimmy Morales said, have described Hartfield's death as "unfair".
"Charlest lived his life protecting the public, and on his time off he was gunned down," Morales said. "He was a man of strong character."
As the sun set low in the sky, silence fell on the park dedicated to fallen officers who served the Vegas community. Everyone stood as a line of officers escorted Hartfield's family to the front.
"I want to thank you for sharing your dad, your husband, and allowing him to be a part of our family," said Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association. "You should be extremely proud of him. Judging by this turnout... this community is proud of him as well."
Before Hartfield was an officer, he was a soldier. He was a sergeant 1st class in the Nevada Army National Guard, assigned to the 100th Quartermaster Company, based in Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
In 2003 he was deployed to Iraq, serving in a task force that was ultimately awarded a presidential citation for "extraordinary heroism." Army records show that Hartfield was also awarded numerous other individual commendations and achievement medals.
After a rough upbringing in Los Angeles, Hartfield had enlisted in the U.S. Army to "get away," First Lt. Christian Souza told USA TODAY. He called it the best decision, saying Hartfield "went on to change hundreds of lives" of the men he mentored in the Army and later on the police force.
In his recently published book, Memoirs of a Public Servant, Hartfield described himself as an officer in the "busiest and brightest city in the world, Las Vegas."
The men who went through the police academy with him took to the stage to give one last sendoff.
"Third Platoon! Ahhhh!," the men shouted.
Hartfield had donned a third uniform in his life, a blue polo shirt with the logo "HC," representing the Henderson Cowboys, the football team he coached and the team his son played on.
As the officers stood up to share their memories, each made a promise: they would support and love Hartfield's family the way they supported and loved Hartfield.
Closing out the vigil, Officer Jenny Rodriguez reminded the crowd that her fellow officer had helped pay and design a memorial wall for fallen Vegas officers inside the Southeast Area Command precinct in 2010.
In 2009, Metro police had its deadliest year, losing four officers. Hartfield though the wall was "completely unacceptable," saying "I'm going to honor our fallen officers better than that," Rodriguez recalled.
Now, the department would honor him, she said, going on to read the quote Hartfield had chose himself to be displayed on the memorial: "No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave."
"We love you, Charlie. Until we meet again my friend, my brother. We're going to take it from here," she said.