KELSO, Wash. (KOIN) — Several hundred people packed the auditorium at Kelso High School to watch the memorial service for Justin DeRosier, the Cowlitz County deputy killed in the line of duty on April 14.
DeRosier, 29, called Kelso home for much of his life and attended Butler Acres Elementary, Coweeman Middle School before graduating from Kelso High in 2008.
“Deputy DeRosier is a much-loved member of our Hilander family,” Superintendent Mary Beth Tack said in a statement. “His strong heart and ultimate service will always be remembered.”
All Kelso students were closed today to give students and staff the opportunity to pay their respects.
Parents, children and neighbors joined with police and firefighters to honor and remember DeRosier.
During the service, people sat silently in the darkened room watching the memorial on a large screen. There were many tears but also a sense of love, gratitude and community.
One of those in attendance was Tyler McLean, who could have gotten a ticket from the deputy but didn’t.
“He pulled me over last summer. Could have given me some pretty big fines, but gave me a warning. Could have impounded my motorcycle and everything,” McLean said. “He was really nice about it, told me don’t be dumb and to get home.”
McLean’s friend Brandon Lowe was also there at that traffic stop.
“You could just tell, like, the compassion in his voice when he talked to him, especially because when you’re in the wrong, sometimes you get talked down to,” Lowe said. “But that’s what sticks with me the most, is he talked to him like a human being and you could tell there was so much more than a guy with a gun and a badge.”
Nick McJonkin, who attended with his son, had a message for DeRosier’s family: “You are supported and you will be loved. And you lost a great man.”
He said it was emotional being at the service at Kelso High. “But I’m glad to see all the support for the fallen deputy and their family.”
Earlier, fire fighters, county workers and families lined I-5 overpasses for the procession from Longview to Portland for the service.
Near Kalama, people were holding flags while trucks and cars honked in support. They said DeRosier’s death has hit them hard.
“A little girl lost her dad, a wife lost her husband, parents lost their child. We’ve all suffered a great loss. Justin was a great man. He deserves all of this and more,” said resident Desiree Mendenhall, who was among those who gathered at the I-5 overpass.
After high school, DeRosier attended Washington State University. He stayed in Pullman as a deputy with the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office until he returned home in 2016. DeRosier was a member of the SWAT team in Whitman and was slated to join the Cowlitz County drug task force this summer.
DeRosier’s family is prominent in the Cowlitz County community. His grandmother Darlene was the county auditor for years and his family owns a gravel business in Kelso.