A Call to Remember

Under the sacred light of the 35th annual Candlelight Vigil, New Jersey heroes are honored

By Esther Gonzales 

NJ State PBA President Pat Colligan reads names of fallen New Jersey officers during the Roll Call of Heroes at the Candlelight Vigil.

One by one, the sea of candles started burning to illuminate the night.

Thousands of law enforcement officers and survivors from across the country stood shoulder to shoulder on the National Mall, stretching from just in front of the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. They each raised a candle to honor the fallen at the 35th annual Candlelight Vigil on May 13.

The Vigil came after the Roll Call of Heroes, honoring law enforcement officers lost in the line of duty during 2022. Law enforcement and government dignitaries stepped up to read names during the roll call. When it came to New Jersey, PBA President Pat Colligan started the call.

Colligan related what it was like to see the Vigil from the podium and what it meant.

“You can’t stand in that crowd of candles and not feel like some connection with everybody who was there,” he stated.

As the Vigil began, numerous speakers welcomed survivors and offered words of encouragement to remind survivors that they are not alone. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland highlighted the importance of the sacrifices these fallen officers made.

“Let us draw strength from the pride we feel in the heroes we honor today, pride in who they were and what they did, pride in what they meant to us and what they will always mean to us,” Garland expressed. “Let us speak of our pride in them everywhere we go and at every opportunity, so that our country can embrace and exalt the noble law enforcement profession of which they were, and all of us are, so very proud to be a part of.”

The 18 names of New Jersey law enforcement officers called and added to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial included some who have been lost in the past two years to COVID, as well as officers lost in years prior and historical names. Such as Officer William Hurley from the Bayonne Police Department who was lost on Feb. 16, 1890, and five officers from the then-Hudson County Police Department who were lost between 1924 and 1933.

The names from the past lend a historical perspective on law enforcement that the Vigil honors, as those officers deserve.

“I always get the list a few weeks before, and I research each person, because I want to know about them,” Colligan explained. “In this case, a lot of them were legacies from the 1920s. It was impactful to hear how you have some lost in the line of duty and others who were lost to time. And I’m glad that these agencies found them and added them on the wall.”

Somewhere in the crowd, Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office Local 339 member Kayleigh Colligan and Edison Local 75 member Connor Colligan listened to their father call names. It was the first time they had attended National Police Week as law enforcement officers.

Knowing they were there to experience the way the Vigil inspires officers proved to be a bit life-changing for Colligan.

“I have a new perspective this year because two of my kids were in the audience,” Colligan added. “I always implore them to come, and I was so glad I did. I’m glad they got to see me read the names. It was a special moment.”

Members of Lakewood Local 71 and the Lakewood Police Department attend the Candlelight Vigil to honor Lakewood Captain Joseph Goertz, who was lost to COVID in 2021.

Among those 18 was Lakewood Police Department Captain Joseph Goertz, who passed away on Oct. 31, 2021, from complications due to COVID.

Lakewood Chief Gregory Meyer, who attended National Police Week with 20 other Lakewood Local 71 members, described Goertz as a cop’s cop who always knew how to defuse any situation. His kind nature resonated with those around him, and he could talk to anyone.

But what Goertz was most well known for on the job was his smile.

“He had a bright smile all the time,” Meyer mentioned. “They called him ‘Smiling Joe.’ He was just a great cop, because people liked him.”

A day earlier, Local 71 member Kevin Martin had ridden into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial with thousands of riders completing the Police Unity Tour. Two other Local 71 members rode beside him, each of them carrying a picture of Goertz on the front of their bikes. The riders were escorted by motor units from agencies across the country, including three Local 71 members.

“When we rode in through the memorial, I felt his presence,” Martin described. “And being here tonight, seeing everybody else, certainly brings it full circle.”

Before the Candlelight Vigil began, Martin stood at the entrance to the Vigil, waiting to escort in Goertz’s family members, including his wife, Elena, two daughters and two sisters. As the Goertz family left the bus that had arrived at the National Mall with survivors, Martin took Elena’s arm in his.

Alongside two other Local 71 members, Martin escorted the family through the long line of law enforcement officers who stood at attention on either side of the dirt pathway.

As Martin led the family to their seats, he said he couldn’t have felt prouder.

“Captain Goertz certainly earned that, and representing the Lakewood family has been an honor for me and those who came along with us,” Martin commented. “You could tell by the look on Elena’s face that they were completely overwhelmed by what was going on, but certainly appreciative. We couldn’t be more proud to escort them to this ceremony, where he will certainly deserve the honor that he’s been bestowed.”