GREENFIELD — The message read, “We love you always. Never forgotten.”
The short tribute penned by Shirley Phillips Monday morning in memory of her son encompassed the meaning behind an event held to honor fallen officers.
Phillips was among those who gathered at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Greenfield to welcome participants during the first leg of the Cops Cycling for Survivors ride.
The annual bike ride kicked off with a ceremony in downtown Indianapolis before heading on U.S. 40 toward Hancock County.
Each year, Greenfield marks the first stop of the event, which seeks to connect families of fallen officers with a support system of cyclists who dedicate their time to remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
For Phillips’ son, Will Phillips, that sacrifice came on Sept. 30, 2010, when the Greenfield Police Department patrolman was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.
“It’s getting easier,” his mother said Monday after reading her son’s death date aloud to the group gathered in support. “I have my days.”
At each stop over the course of the 13-day ride across the state, the cyclists introduce the survivors who are present, read a brief biography of their loved one’s service and then pause for a moment of silence for the officers who lost their lives.
Greenfield police Patrolman Ross Yoder read the tribute to Malcolm Grass, a man he never met but has heard much about over the years.
Grass, a two-term Hancock County sheriff, was killed during a police standoff in 1986.
That was the year Yoder was born, but despite being so far removed from Grass’ years of service on the sheriff’s department, Yoder said he respects the sacrifices made by those who came before him.
“They give something that most people don’t have the guts to give,” he said.
On each leg of the route, survivors are invited to write a message on a poster attached to the side of the outfit’s support truck.
The poster gained its first signatures and messages of support Monday morning, including those from the Phillips family.
The route stretches about 1,000 miles, and there’s always a certain energy on the first day, participants say. The event is especially poignant this year given the recent death of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Perry Renn, who was killed early this month in a gun battle on the east side of Indianapolis.
“I think it makes the ride even more important,” said Greenfield police Cpl. Steve McCarley, who is cycling for seven days of the event this year, “whether it’s going back to year one to now.”
Cyclists must raise money to participate on each day of the ride, but most go above and beyond, seeking extra donations to benefit the families of fallen officers.
Those funds go toward a variety of assistance programs for fallen officers’ families, including tuition and medical and basic financial assistance.
Donations will also come in from supporters along the route. The goal is $40,000 by the final day, and the cyclists are already well on their way.
“I think we’ve already broken 30,” said cyclist Niki Crawford, a first sergeant with the Indiana State Police.
Crawford said the support truck always draws attention from passers-by. This year, it bears the image of IMPD Officer Rod Bradway, who was shot and killed while responding to a domestic dispute in 2013.
The truck’s driver is often approached by supporters when he stops to fill the tank along the route, Crawford said.
“They’ll be people come up, look at the truck, and hand him a twenty-dollar bill,” she said.
The ride concludes July 26 at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, where participants will visit the “Heroes Section,” where many fallen officers are buried.