C.J. Marshall: Significa: A tribute to Chris and Mike
Tomorrow will mark the 10th anniversary of the deaths of two of the bravest and finest law enforcement officials ever produced by Bradford County.
On March 31, 2004, Bradford County Sheriff's deputies Michael VanKuren and Chris Burgert were shot and killed in the line of duty while in the process of serving a warrant at a junk yard in Wells Township. The heinous act was the first time in over 30 years that a local law enforcement official had lost his life by violent means in field, triggering one of the most massive manhunts ever seen in Bradford County.
I was working for The Daily Review at the time. It was my day off, but Ron Hosie, was who then editor of The Review, called me in because we needed all the manpower we could muster to do justice to the story. Because Ron hadn't told me specifically why he needed me that day, I can distinctly remember thinking, "What did I do this time?" as I came in to work.
However, when the situation was explained to me, I felt the same shock and sorrow that the rest of the community experienced as we all tried to deal with the unthinkable - namely that someone had dared to kill two law enforcement officials in the line of duty.
Over the years, I've experienced various cases involving murder. Most of them have been very sad, and more than a few have been shocking. But when a law enforcement official is gunned down in cold blood - as in the case involving Mike and Chris - a real chill crawls down your spine and turns over in your stomach. Because you realize that two good men have died in the performance of their duty to the community to keep decent, honest hardworking citizens safe and secure.
I knew both Chris and Mike in passing. I was not close to either of them, but I saw each on a regular basis in my daily trips to the courthouse. For a few years I'd worked as the court reporter for The Daily Review, and as a result had regular contact with them, as well as the other deputies and the sheriff. I always found Chris and Mike to be friendly and cooperative whenever I needed something, and they always had a friendly hello for me whenever I passed by. Which was one reason why I felt a real shudder go through me when I heard the news.
Putting out the paper that day was all a blur. Every reporter on staff was running around, contacting various sources, trying to get what information we could about the situation. The courthouse was locked down and a terrible pall had settled over the building, as those still inside - particularly in the sheriff's office, tried to cope with a situation that nobody ever believes could possibly happen.
In addition to what information I could gather and write up, I also made a special contribution that day of which I was particularly proud. Pictures were taken of the search, but we desperately wanted photographs of Chris and Mike to make the next day's issue complete. Every person on staff tried every source they could think of, but no one could come up with anything. All the official sources were busy looking for Dustin Briggs, and it began to look like we would have to settle for stories, but no pictures of the two slain men.
Then, I got an idea. You could almost see the light bulb appear over my head. In the time I had served as court reporter, I had taken various pictures of people in custody as they were brought to and from the courthouse for their sentencings. Although the primary purpose of those pictures was for publication in the paper of those being sentenced, they were always escorted by sheriff's deputies - included Mike and Chris.
We had just simply tossed all those pictures in a couple of big envelopes in a file drawer as they accumulated through the years, so I pulled them out and began to look through them. It took a bit of doing, but I finally found one of Chris and one of Mike in which each had his face clearly turned toward the camera. I was pleased to find usable photos of them, because it allowed us to show the public the faces of the two men who had given their lives in service to the community they served.
Chris Burgert and Mike VanKuren were just like many of the other folks in Bradford County. They were married, had kids, and lived and reacted with the rest of people throughout the area. They served an invaluable function as sheriff's deputies, serving warrants, transporting prisoners, and making certain that many of the functions at the Bradford County Courthouse ran smoothly. Nobody predicted that day they would be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of their duty. Through the years, the community which they served so selflessly has honored their memory and will do so again on Monday. A memorial service is scheduled to start at 11:15 p.m. and is being sponsored by the Bradford County Sheriff's Department. Many will be in attendance, but even those who can't come I'm certain will be there in spirit. Because Chris and Mike died in the line of duty - a duty assumed by all law enforcement officials of making certain that Bradford County and other communities like it will remain safe and secure for all decent hardworking folks.