For some of the men and women in blue who knew Officers Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark best – their memories and grief born out of the night the two were killed haven’t diminished or even dulled over the years.
"Some days are better than others but it definitely seems like it was just yesterday," said Retired Sgt. Michael Gaines. “The night that it occurred plays in my mind every day.”
He was Jeff and Sean’s supervisor and still vividly recalls learning of their death.
“I just caved in,” he said. “Felt like every bone in my body just gave away and my muscles gave out. And I hit my knees. It was like a tidal wave. I could not have been here today if Sean's mother hadn't asked me to come.”
The officers were assigned to the North Tryon division led by Captain Michelle Hummel at the time.
“We never forget,” she said. “We're never going to forget.”
A nearly 30-year veteran, she'd dealt with such a loss before. She worked with Officers John Burnette and Andy Nobles, killed back in 1993.
“I felt like there was a reason why I was here,” said Capt. Hummel. “John and Andy were 13 years before. And I worked with them and knew them. So I felt like there was a reason I was here - to be here with everyone when this happened. Not that you’re ever prepared - but if anything could ever prepare you for something like this as a leader - I feel like that certainly did. For me to be here to lead them, help them, be beside them - was very important.”
Officer Jennifer Bumgarner was particularly close to Jeff. They’d worked together in the Central Division patrolling the streets of Uptown before he transferred to the North Tryon division. Her husband’s name is also Jeff.
“I called him my other Jeff,” she recalled. “That's how close we were. It just never goes away. It feels like just yesterday. We had the same birthday, he and my Jeff were Marines; his wife's name is Jennifer. It was just meant to be.”
Bumgarner said Jeff was a go-getter and loved being a police officer.
“I trusted him with my life,” she said. “You knew he was your backup. You wanted him as your backup.”
Officer Keith Trietley worked in the North Tryon division at the same time as Jeff and Sean. Although he was closest to Jeff - one memory of them both stands out.
“Working first shift and coming in the mornings and seeing Jeff and Sean who'd just worked nights, we used to talk to them in the parking lot,” he recalled. “They were always in a good mood. Telling you what happened the night before. Even though they hadn't been on too long - they were trying to one-up you, with their stories.”
Always aware of the danger that comes with wearing a badge, Trietley says their deaths brought that sharply into focus.
“When something like this happens, you realize just how dangerous things can get and it happens quick,” said as his voice trailed off, his chin quivering with emotion and his dropped his head.
As emotional as recalling that fateful night clearly still is - there's also no shortage of good memories to share.
“He came in one night - and he was bubbling,” Sgt. Gaines remembered. ” He said, my wife's pregnant – and it’s going to be another boy! Here's a man who was in love with this family…unbelievable to see that happen him and children.
He paused for several moments, as his eyes filled with tears, before adding, “but we move on....as best we can. God knows it ain't easy.”
As difficult as moving on has been – they’ve found ways to do just that.
For Sgt. Gaines it’s through his faith, who said, “Faith tells us that they are somewhere, waiting, talking to us, existing. And we have solace in that, knowing that someday, our faith says we'll see them again." Capt. Hummel said remembering their love and passion for a life of service has helped her.
“Serving in the way that we know that they served,” she said. “That continues their legacy. That continues their memory.”
But perhaps what rings for true of all them is what Officer Trietley had to say: “You gotta tell their story - and just makes sure that everybody knows.”