Fallen officers get final resting spot, more than a century later

SEATTLE - The ending was violent: a gun battle in Seattle's Central District on Easter Sunday.

Officer Thomas Roberts had been walking the beat early that morning at 18th and Jefferson, when a suspect pulled a gun and shot Roberts twice. He died at the scene, leaving behind a pregnant wife and three children.

It would only take 116 years to bring Roberts to his final resting place.

"Their duty was to serve and our duty is to remember," said Seattle Police Officer Mike Severance. "These officers made - it's a clich - the ultimate sacrifice."

Severance, a 46-year veteran of the force, has made it his mission to make sure Roberts - and every other Seattle officer killed in the line of duty - has a properly-marked gravesite. While doing research on a related project five years ago, he learned that Roberts, who was killed in 1898, was among several officers in unmarked graves throughout the city.

"They definitely deserve to have an appropriately-marked grave," Severance added. "This means everyone - including the ones out of state."

The mission wouldn't be easy. Donations needed to be sought, relatives tracked down. Roberts' descendants - who live across the country - had no idea of their untold past.

"The story of his sacrifice somehow escaped our family lore," wrote Roberts' great-great grandson in a letter, "and it truly brought home the risks our police officers face when putting themselves in harm's way on our behalf."

Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole read the letter Thursday, as she stood next to Roberts' newly-marked gravestone. Bagpipes played. Heads bowed. A light drizzle fell from the sky.

With the ceremony over, every Seattle police officer killed in the line of duty will have a marker at their gravesite, officials said.

Severance, who retires next month after four and a half decades on the force, said he felt a mix of emotions after the ceremony ended.

"I feel satisfaction, pride, honor," he added. "I've done everything I can."