Friday, Oct. 6, 2017 | 12:40 a.m.
Four days after two police officers and a good Samaritan were slain by anti-government extremists in 2014, Officer Charleston Hartfield penned the following: “I’ve been trying to hide my tears amongst sweat. I figured it’s better to train through the pain than show emotion. Well, today the emotions busted through this make-believe rough exterior. My heart is heavy.
“The fallen are to be mourned but not to the extent that it eats you alive. I honestly feel like I’m falling apart. The senseless death of two patriots and community servants cut me deep, hell, it cut an entire community deep.”
On Thursday night, the community again reeled from a tragedy — its collective heart heavy — over the death of Hartfield and 57 others, who moments before the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history had been simply enjoying a country music concert on the Las Vegas Strip.
Hartfield — a 16-year Army veteran who served in Iraq, an 11-year police officer, and the newly published author of “Memoirs of a Public Servant” — died as he tried to save others. He was 34.
Hartfield’s wife, Veronica, his son, Ayzayah, and his daughter, Savannah, along with uniformed officers and community members fought back tears as his police brothers and sisters shared moving anecdotes of the fallen officer.
The vigil at Police Memorial Park was illuminated by a bright orange full moon and hundreds of candles held by those in attendance. There were Color Guard honors, and bagpipes and drums sounded off a rendition of "Amazing Grace."
Officer Jake Grunwald, who was in the 2006 Metro academy with Hartfield, recalled his partner's dedication to teamwork, leadership, selflessness, his faith and love for his family.
“If Charleston was standing right here, I guarantee he would look at all of us right now and tell us not to be sad, to celebrate him, because all he wants to do is see smiles in all the faces that he touched," Grunwald said. "He doesn’t want to see us cry and he doesn’t want to see us hurt."
At the end of his speech, Grunwald summoned officers in Hartfield’s academy for a hurrah. “Third platoon,” the officer said. “Ahhh!” the officers barked.
The yell, which was coined by Hartfield 10 years ago, was typically done in a huddle before moving on to a new task, annoying the other cops, but “he loved it," and every graduation anniversary, Hartfield would message his team, “Platoon!”
Another officer cried as he described Hartfield as a "leader among men." The officer, who worked with Hatfield for nine years, said that there was an aura to Hartfield — who had a "hilariously witty perspective" that demanded respect. "I loved to hear what he had to say."
Hartfield, an intellectual, was into football, politics, the military, social media and friends. He loved Las Vegas and he loved the United States, but above all was his family, the officers said.
A sergeant, who said he called Hartfield "Captain America," told the crowd about the officer's undercover work. "(He) bought a lot of narcotics for us."
"He was an artist; there was really nobody better," the sergeant said. One time, Hartfield bought drugs from a longtime "OG."
When the suspect was arrested, he told officers, "It's not fair that you're letting this prison thug out here buying dope off me," referring to Hartfield, who'd master playing the drug-buying character.
He didn't "realize he just sold dope to Captain America," the sergeant said. Months later, when the suspect was in a courtroom, his confidence piqued thinking the "prison thug" was going to help him get out of the problem, when he saw Hartfield walk inside, not knowing he was an officer.
The suspect's demeanor deflated when Hartfield introduced himself as a cop, the sergeant said.
An officer remembered being four months pregnant and engaging a suspect in a foot pursuit. “What are you doing," she recalled Hartfield say. "And he ran to me ... stop chasing people, you're pregnant!"
At one point during the vigil, Hartfield's wife, son and daughter were asked to get up and look back, while hundreds of people raised their candles.
In his book, Hartfield writes about an encounter he and a man he suspected of being drunk, who he'd seen stumble into a car and drive a short distance to a nearby convenience store during a chilly December night last year.
"I calmly walked over to his car and asked if I could help him," Hartfield said. The man breaks down, telling Hartfield that a friend and fellow soldier had just killed himself.
"He has chill bumps" and his teeth are shaking due to the cold night, he wrote about the man. Eventually, Hartfield strikes up a conversation that lasted a couple of hours, in which the man told the officer about his problems.
"We spoke intelligently about life. We shared our war stories, and I truly believe that we both walked away a slightly better person ... best of luck young warrior, for greater days are ahead."
A GoFundMe account created for Hartfield's family by Officer Grunwald has raised roughly $64,000. To donate, visit here.