Hundreds of people laced up their sneakers Wednesday night at the track at Alki Middle School in Salmon Creek to run, walk or jog an “Honor Mile” in memory of slain Clark County sheriff’s Detective Jeremy Brown.
Some in attendance knew Brown, 46, and others didn’t, but many showed up to run in Wednesday night’s heat out of sense of needing to do something to cope with the emotion of his death.
Runners with American flags and Thin Blue Line flags led the first lap around the track before people set their own pace for the next three laps.
Organizer Jason Hattrick, founder of Kindness 911, feared he and his friend might be the only two to show up when he posted about the event on social media the day before. Instead, hundreds of community members, first responders and their families huddled around the track to memorialize the detective.
The goal of the run wasn’t just exercise, Hattrick said. It was to heal.
“I realized that this is a really good way for us to put action to it, by taking one step at a time in the healing process,” he said. “And sometimes that means literally taking one step at a time. So tonight, we took those steps, I took those steps, and we did it together. Tonight, we’re healing as a community.”
Hattrick began planning the run after seeing a video of Zechariah Cartledge, a 12-year-old boy from Orlando, Fla., who ran a mile with a thin blue line flag in honor of Brown on Monday. Zechariah runs for fallen first responders nationwide through his organization, Running 4 Heros.
Hattrick said he reached out to Zechariah with his idea to do a local run for those who were touched by Brown’s death and that Zechariah was supportive of the event.
Hattrick knew he wasn’t alone in feeling like he needed to do something but not knowing what he could do. Less than 24 hours after he posted the event on Facebook, Hattrick said 11,000 people had viewed it.
“There’s no way for me and our civilian community to help assist, pitch in and lend a hand right now,” he said. “And so, we’re kind of stuck in limbo of, ‘How do we get over this tragedy?’ ”
Many first responders were in the crowd circling the track — some in uniform, some not. A crew from Clark County Fire District 6 was ready to line up at the starting line when it received a call. The firefighters jumped back in their engines and headed out, sirens sounding.
Some runners were also from the sheriff’s office, Vancouver Police Department and Ridgefield Police Department, as well as from PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, where Brown was treated and ultimately died the night of July 23.
Sheriff Chuck Atkins was touched by the number of people who came out. As he looked around at people finishing their fourth laps, he noted the number of families and kids he saw.
“It means a lot. This gives me faith, and I look and I see kids and families — because that’s what it’s all about,” Atkins said. “You know, our job is one that can be difficult, but it doesn’t define who we are. It’s our community, our families, our friends, our faith — it’s that, long before it’s the job.”
When Atkins saw what Hattrick was planning, he said there was no way he couldn’t come. He raced home after the workday and changed into plain clothes for the run.
Although everyone showed up Wednesday night to complete a mile, Hattrick said he hoped people would also talk and connect before they headed home. He also intended for his run to show Brown’s family that the detective meant something to the community.
“I think every time people come out, say his name and do something on their own, they know they made a difference. Jeremy’s loved ones in life can say he made a difference,” he said. “And that’s what tonight is all about.”
The run was also livestreamed because Hattrick said he’d heard from numerous people who couldn’t attend but still wanted to run.
Patrick Morgan with the Ridgefield Police Department and Ben Hulsey with the sheriff’s office said they didn’t know what to expect when they showed up at the middle school with their wives and kids. It was important to them to be there for the opportunity to bring the community together and show their support.
Hulsey hoped to continue something similar to bring the community and law enforcement together, and said he didn’t think it should take someone’s death in order to do this.
Morgan said it can feel lonely while on duty. Things like this show him people appreciate the work he does.
“It’s reassuring for us, because sometimes you can feel you’re kind of alone out there and nobody is there to support you — especially when all you deal with every day is people who are not happy to see you. So it’s nice to know that there’s people that are willing to show up for things like this and just be a part of something.”
Morgan’s wife, Lauren, said it was hard not to imagine herself in Brown’s wife’s shoes.
“I think when stuff like this happens, it ripples through the community in different ways,” she said. “Where, obviously, them being on the job, it affects them because that’s their brother in blue. But it also affects (the wives) because we know that we could be Jeremy’s wife at any time.”
Katrina Agarycheva and Valerie McAlister brought with them the support of the Vancouver Police Department. Brown’s death hit home for them, especially because Brown was working undercover as a member of a joint drug task force made up of officers from Vancouver police and the sheriff’s office. Although they didn’t know Brown personally, it could’ve easily been someone they work with every day, McAlister said.
McAlister said she doesn’t enjoy running and didn’t come for the exercise. Instead, she felt this was a way she could express support.
“This is the least I can do, is put myself through something for 15 to 20 minutes that’s a little uncomfortable,” she said. “Tonight, we were running for somebody who can’t. He put himself on the line for us, so we can be a little uncomfortable and come together as a community. That’s how we’re going to heal through it.”