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Officer Chandler eulogized as hero, role model
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Officer Chandler eulogized as hero, role model

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Big Stone Gap Police Officer Michael Chandler Funeral

WISE, Va. — Minutes before the funeral for slain Big Stone Gap Police Officer Michael Chandler on Wednesday night, widow Natasha Chandler stood alone beside his casket — save for two members of the Virginia State Police honor guard.

She leaned over, reached into the casket to touch him then knelt down to say goodbye.

They had been married just three weeks.

Over the nearly 90 minutes that followed, an array of speakers eulogized Michael Chandler as a “hero,” a “role model” and an example of what a public servant should be.

Chandler, 29, was shot early Saturday performing a welfare check at a house in the 2500 block of Orr Street, just outside the town limits. He was first taken to Norton Community Hospital then flown to Johnson City Medical Center, where he later died.

An estimated crowd of 750 people filled the David J. Prior Convocation Center at UVa-Wise for the service, including hundreds of state and local law enforcement agencies representing Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio and all corners of Virginia, plus members of the U.S. Marshals Service. An estimated 1,250 paid their respects during more than four hours preceding the service.

Big Stone Gap Town Manager Steve Lawson recounted working with Chandler.

“He set an example no matter what he was doing. That was above and beyond. He was an example of everything we’re proud of in Southwest Virginia. He served his community not just as a police officer and firefighter but as a husband, father and friend none of us will ever replace,” Lawson said. “We never had a complaint. He always did things the right way, always with a smile and always helping.

“Michael went out that night to take care of somebody, and he met evil in the darkness,” Lawson said. “As I look out at all these first responders that we appreciate so much coming and showing their respect, please be careful. Please. It’s a different world out there, and there is evil in it.”

Chuck Slemp, Wise County commonwealth’s attorney, praised Chandler both as a police officer and a person.

“All we can do is honor him and his memory. Carry on the legacy of his service. May we all put aside our differences, our self-interest, our pride, our personal security, and learn to lead as an example for others to follow,” Slemp said. “Servant leadership, and we write our own story of our own lives in service to others.”

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State Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, talked about the hundreds who lined the roadways Monday when Chandler’s body was brought back to Southwest Virginia from the medical examiner’s office in Roanoke.

“Words are insufficient to describe the impact Michael had in his journey here on earth; however, as I watched the people line the streets and line the overpasses — all the way from Roanoke to Big Stone — that impact resonated with me,” he said. “I felt a sense of pride, and I know Michael would too. That’s a testament to Michael. It’s a testament to a job well done.”

Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears recounted the time two sheriff’s deputies came to her door notifying her that her daughter and a granddaughter were dead and another was on life support.

“You didn’t get a chance to say goodbye,” she said to Natasha Chandler. “He wasn’t supposed to not be here, and that hurts. I know it hurts. Right now you’ve got that hole in your stomach. … That is going to be there for a long time.”

Sears told Chandler she needs to grieve this tragedy.

“You have to grieve. God gave us tears for a reason,” Sears said.

Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares presented a flag flown over the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond and, during his remarks, talked about the “burden of the badge.”

“The burden of the badge — that when you put the shield on every day — you are the front line wearing that burden,” Miyares said. “Often times, too often, you are not appreciated enough by the people you protect. Every day you wear that shield, you’re dealing with people often times on their worst day. And you certainly don’t get a thank you.

“Michael was that hero,” Miyares said. “What other job, when you hear gunfire, when everyone else rushes away, you rush in? Or a burning building, when everyone else rushes out, you rush in?”

In the hours leading up to the service, a steady stream of well-wishers — many in uniform with a black strap covering their badges — began streaming through the doors well before the planned 3 p.m. opening and continued until shortly before 7 p.m. Around 5 p.m., a steady line of more than 100 people walked by over a 15-minute span, paying their respects. An estimated 1,200 people filed past Chandler’s open casket during the reception.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Richlands, attended the service and issued a statement praising Chandler’s sacrifice.

“Officer Chandler exemplifies public service, bravery and the essence of sacrifice for the common good,” Hackworth wrote. “To his family, we mourn with you and we want you to know that your husband, son and father’s sacrifice is deeply respected and appreciated by all of us.”

Thursday’s graveside procession will depart Bullitt Park in Big Stone Gap at 11 a.m. Those wishing to pay their respects to the family are asked to assemble on the sidewalks in Big Stone Gap, or anywhere along the procession route to Powell Valley Memorial Gardens.

Graveside services are limited to family and emergency personnel.

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC | Facebook.com/david.mcgee.127

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