Las Vegas Sun

November 17, 2017

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Charlie changed the world’: Metro officer slain in mass shooting honored at memorial

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Wade Vandervort

Fallen Officer Charleston Hartfield’s motorcade makes its way down the Las Vegas Strip as it heads towards Central Church in Henderson for his funeral services, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.

Fallen Officer Charleston Hartfield Is Laid to Rest

Savannah, Veronica, and Ayzayah Hartfield look on as officers move fallen Officer Charleston Hartfield's casket during a funeral service held at Central Church in Henderson, Nev. on October 20, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Planning ahead for the end of his life about a year ago without telling his family, the fallen Metro Police officer clacked a keyboard, typing a letter to his wife that she found in the days after he became one of 58 victims slain at the Route 91 Harvest festival.

The file, “Charleston Hartfield’s memorial service,” said: “Veronica, if you’re reading this, then I’ve been called home. Nothing I type can make this any easier, so I’ll just get to the facts.”

Music he wanted played: Johnny Cash and Nina Simone.

“My largest request is please do not allow anyone to wear black. Black is totally depressing and I don’t want anyone expressing their sorrow with my passing. I’d like for everyone to enjoy themselves and remember me for who I was — the truth only — none of that stuff about how great I was. Only real stories.”

But many emotional anecdotes involving the 34-year-old Army veteran and Metro officer were shared Friday at a funeral service in which family, friends and dozens of first responders and military personnel eulogized the man known as Chucky.

Hartfield would probably frown at being called a hero, but when the bullets rained down on the crowd of thousands in the worst mass shooting in modern history, he acted heroically.

Hartfield was off-duty when he “sprang into action — like he’d been trained to do. He shielded and protected and shepherded people to safety. He took actions to save lives,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said in a eulogy at the service.

The two-hour affair at Henderson’s Central Christian Church was preceded by a procession across the valley with full Metro honors.

Waiting for the motorcade, hundreds of uniformed personnel lined up, packing the entrance and interacting with one another. A man wearing a Raiders cap cried uncontrollably, while another man embraced him.

But when the officers were called to attention, the ambience became so somberly quiet for several minutes that only airplanes and distant freeway traffic could be heard.

Then the snare staccatos and the thumping bass drums sounded off, followed by an honor guard and the Metro pickup truck carrying Hartfield’s American flag-draped casket. His wife, Veronica, son, Ayzayah, and daughter, Savannah — wearing light-colored clothing, as Hartfield would have wanted — held hands and walked behind as they entered the church.

Inside, the stage was adorned with wreaths and pictures of Hartfield. A podium was flanked by two pairs of his boots, one with the American flag printed on them. His officer hat was placed atop the coffin.

The memorial should be about granting Hartfield his wish, celebrating instead of dwelling on the loss, announced Pastor Jud Wilhite. “It’s easier said than done today,” he said.

Hartfield’s cousin, Chris Stockton, provided comedic anecdotes but also expanded on his cousin’s intelligence, diplomatic spirit, genuine friendship, patriotism, generosity and his love for his family.

Hartfield had a knack for inventing his own lexicon by combining words, like the recent time he told Stockton: “Damn cuz, you have a lot of fuscle,” meaning fat and muscle, Stockton told a laughing audience.

Or the time Stockton asked Hartfield why he hadn’t joined the Marines like him. He’d tried but failed the test, Hartfield told him. “I couldn’t fit my head in a jar.”

National Guardsman Sgt. Abdiel Roman spoke about his friendship with Hartfield, who persuaded him and “pushed him” to also join Metro.

There was an instance last year during military training that a water purification system broke, so Hartfield, who was joined by Roman, left the soldiers to rest, got a toolbox and drove to the system, working and repairing it in about 17 hours. “Tell everybody the soldiers did it — I don’t want the recognition,” Hartfield told him.

Hartfield’s sister, Denita Oyeka, and brother, Carl Hartfield, took the stage together. Oyeka spoke about her brother’s dedication and directed her attention to Hartfield’s wife and children and assured them that they’re not alone.

Although Carl Hartfield was older, Charleston called him “little big brother” and “old preacher man,” he said. “I wish I could hear that again.”

“I looked up to you; I love you; I will always love you; I’ve never had this pain before, I’ve never had this brokenness before,” Carl Hartfield said.

Sgt. 1st Class Christina Bunker remembered a time when her shoes became untied in the beginning of a two-mile run Hartfield was overseeing about 12 years ago. Others would have paused or started the clock over, but Hartfield’s “big shadow” arrived and said, “sucks to be you; hurry up,” before breaking out in laughter.

That told Bunker “so much” about Hartfield. “He had faith in me. He knew I did not need any shortcuts to succeed and he never gave me any — I’m always grateful for that.”

Bunker said that he took others’ problems to heart. He shared his loved ones’ happiness as well as darker times, she said.

National Guard Brig. Gen. Zachary F. Doser posthumously promoted Hartfield to first sergeant in a brief ceremony in which military personnel stood up and yelled out a last "hooah."

Hartfield “epitomized everything good about being an American,” Doser said. “Dictionaries and encyclopedias should be rewritten so when you look up the word father, soldier, police officer, you see this picture.”

“This loss is devastating … this country, this community, his police department our national guard, we are suffering, because we will never be the same because of it.”

“The Army is designed to take losses — but ladies and gentleman — his loss is so devastating,” Doser said.

Then Lombardo took the stage. “On Oct. 1, an unremarkable person became the worse kind of thief and stole the lives of 58 innocent people.”

Hartfield was a remarkable officer, a kind man, who lived a life of purpose and gave Metro heart, Lombardo said. “I’m sad because there is a void that won’t likely be filled anytime soon.”

“We are angry, we are left without answers, but most of all our hearts are broken” for his family, Lombardo said.

He spoke about Hartfield volunteering with children in the COP program, and kids asking for the cop to come back, because he spoke to them like adults.

“Charlie changed the world,” Lombardo said, challenging the crowd to do the same and ask, “What would Charlie do?”

A pastor read a letter on behalf of Veronica Hartfield in which she detailed their 20-year love story. They would drive each other crazy with silly antics, but he was her Superman, she wrote, adding that he’d given her and her children an amazing life.

Then the service ended and Hartfield’s casket was once again slowly led outside while bagpipes and drums played a solemn song.

He was on the way to the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City. In his final letter, he wrote that he wanted to be buried with other veterans. “That way myself and all the crusty old vets can hold formations and continue to protect and serve our great country once more.”