The promise that Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl brought to the job each day she put on her uniform and went to work behind the prison walls. The promise to remember the way she lived her life and carried herself.
The promise to her family that the sacrifice she made will not be forgotten.
About 3,500 people gathered Tuesday at Comcast Arena in Everett to honor Biendl, 34. The ceremony was steeped in traditions meant to remember those who have died in the line of duty.
The halls and aisles of the arena swelled with corrections, police and fire service employees. They exchanged solemn greetings, gentle jostling and hugs. Corrections staff came from as far away as New York, Michigan and Canada to add their voices to mourners here grieving the loss of a woman who loved her family and friends and was proud to call herself a corrections officer.
“Today, we must offer Jayme the respect she earned. We must hold her memory in our hearts,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said. “We must summon the same courage Officer Biendl did, and commit ourselves to ensuring the safety of all our officers, even as they protect us. With time our pain will lessen, but our memory of a daughter, a sister, a partner, and a friend and a co-worker will never diminish.”
Biendl was killed Jan. 29 at the Washington State Reformatory. A convicted rapist serving a life sentence without any chance of release is suspected of strangling her inside the chapel where Biendl had worked for five years.
Byron Scherf, 52, on Tuesday was being held at the Snohomish County Jail, just a block from the arena. That was perhaps close enough to hear the mournful notes of the bagpipes and deep boom of the drums.
Scherf's name went unmentioned during Tuesday's service. Some speakers alluded to the crime he is suspected of committing.
Biendl's life was taken by a person motivated by darkness and in an act of evil, prison chaplain Linda Haptonstall told the crowd.
“Jayme Biendl was the antithesis of evil and represented all that was good and noble in our chosen profession of corrections,” she said.
Haptonstall, who worked with Biendl at the Monroe Correctional Complex, later read a benediction asking for divine help in moving through the anger, pain and frustration felt throughout the corrections family.
“As their tears flow, help them remember the light, the precious light that Jayme was in all of our lives,” she said.
She asked God to share in the love that everyone felt for Biendl.
“Thank you, Jayme. And we love you. May God hold you close,” the chaplain said.
Biendl's death ended the promising future of a public servant who dedicated herself to making a difference and keeping the community safe.
“Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl was the best of who we are — she was and now will always be an example of professionalism and dedication to duty whose memory is embedded in our hearts and in our minds for the rest of our lives,” Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail said.
She was an exemplary officer, said Scott Frakes, superintendent at the prison in Monroe. She was the perfect example of the important role women can take in corrections, he said. They bring skills in collaboration and communication that are needed behind bars.
She would have scoffed at the suggestion, now being offered by some, that her gender made her less effective. Her professionalism and dedication inspired those around her, Frakes said.
“Jayme has so much more to accomplish,” he said. “Jayme had so much more to give us.”
Her badge, keys, radio call sign and post number will be retired to symbolize that loss, he said. At the same time, her colleagues in the corrections department promise to strive every day to keep “the memory of Jayme Biendl in our minds and hearts,” Frakes added.
Monroe corrections Sgt. Jimmie Fletcher recalled seeing Biendl for the first time in 2002. At 5 foot 3, she was in a crowd of officers who towered above her. Biendl carried herself with strength and confidence that made her stand out, Fletcher said.
She had the ambition to conduct herself in a true and just manner, and the gift of changing those around her, he added.
Fletcher fought through tears as he stood on stage, looking down at Biendl's flag-draped casket.
“She made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
Family, friends and Monroe correction officers filled the 1,200 seats on the floor of the arena.
Tears and quiet sobs rippled through the crowd during the ceremony. Many heads bowed in sorrow and prayer.
Tom Smith and his wife, Linda, drove from eastern Washington. Both are corrections officers at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell. They didn't know Biendl but felt the obligation of family to attend Tuesday's service.
“Unless you've been inside, you can't explain it,” Tom Smith said. “It's the camaraderie, the friendship, the trust.”
That bond drew other corrections officers from around North America.
“It's a tragedy. One of our sisters has fallen at the hands of a criminal. It's tragedy not only in Washington but for the entire country,” said Henry Martinez, a captain with the New York City Department of Corrections.
State corrections chief Vail said people working in Washington's prisons are owed an honest public discussion about safety.
“We ask so much of our staff, yet they ask for so little in return. The men and women who help keep us safe only want to return safely to their own homes after they finish their shift. We owe them at least that,” Vail said.
They also owe Biendl's family, he said.
“We will come out of this stronger than before. We will rise above this. And we will do it together,” Vail said. “It is our responsibility — and our promise to Jayme's family — that this loss will not be in vain.”
After the speeches, the arena went dark as a video tribute filled the projector screens. Photos showed Biendl laughing, cooking — she loved to cook — and smiling, holding onto friends and family. Her casket, illuminated by a spotlight, provided a somber counterpoint.
As the service concluded, an honor guard gathered the U.S. flag that had covered Biendl and slowly folded it into a meticulous triangle.
Monroe Corrections Honor Guard Cmdr. Edwin Gonzales-Lebron handed it to Biendl's father, James Hamm.
A ceremonial call using Biendl's radio identification echoed in the arena.
“WSR base to King 271. WSR base to King 271. WSR base to King 271,” the dispatcher intoned.
The calls went unanswered.
“Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl out of service. Gone but not forgotten.”
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.
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