CHILHOWIE, Va. — As he wiped tears from his eyes, Virginia State Police Sgt. Matthew Riley shared some of his fondest memories of Trooper Lucas B. Dowell, who died last Monday when authorities executed a search warrant in Cumberland County.
About 1,500 people — including representatives from dozens of law enforcement agencies from around the country — attended Saturday’s funeral service in Dowell’s hometown of Chilhowie.
Riley, Dowell’s tactical team supervisor in Appomattox, shared the stage at Chilhowie Christian Church with several speakers and dignitaries. Dowell was a great storyteller and a wise-cracker, Riley and others said, and he often had a smile on his face.
Dowell’s humorous personality stood out in the department, but he was always ready to support his team and help the community, speakers said.
Riley, who was wrought with emotion as he shared stories about his friend, spoke about the first day he talked to Dowell about joining the tactical team. After giving a spiel about the unit, Riley said Dowell interrupted him, leaned forward, smiled and squinted his eyes.
“‘Look, let’s just get down to the heart of this thing,’” Riley recalled Dowell saying. “‘Do I get to drive a tank?’ I said, ‘No, you don’t get to drive a tank, but you’ll get to drive a Bearcat if you’re lucky.’ He stood up, twirled his fingers and said, ‘That’s good enough for me.’”
Riley also shared the story about Dowell’s first time entering a residence while executing a search warrant near Lynchburg.
Before the mission, Riley briefed the team and then checked with each of them to make sure they knew their duties. He said Dowell didn’t seem to have been paying too much attention.
Everything was going fine, until he reached Dowell, who had a grin on his face and a World War II helmet on top of his head, Riley said.
“I said, ‘Lucas, what is your role?’” Riley recalled.
Dowell looked at the team and responded by quoting a line from “Saving Private Ryan,” one of his favorite movies.
“Keep the sand out of your weapons. Keep those actions clear. I’ll see you on the beach,” said Dowell, who then turned around and walked off. While his team laughed at Dowell’s antics, Riley said the trooper proceeded to enter the wrong vehicle.
VSP Superintendent Gary Settle, who called Dowell a hero, said it was humbling to see so many rows of officers in uniform during the funeral.
Settle said Dowell had great patience, remained calm while under pressure and found it easy to deal with people.
Since Dowell’s death, Settle said staff found a “to-do list” that Dowell had apparently created for 2019. It was posted on the bulletin board in his VSP residence.
“It demonstrated that Lucas had a plan for his faith and for his family,” said Settle.
Dowell vowed to play fewer video games, work out more and go to church and spend more time with his family, Settle said.
Dowell was a trooper that others could rely on.
“Members of his [tactical] team felt safer with him there,” Settle said. “He was the guy fighting for what was right, the guy you wanted on your team when things got tough. Lucas is a hero.”
Settle said he believes Dowell saved lives while authorities executed the search warrant on Monday.
“Without a doubt, he saved lives of his tactical team members,” Settle said.
Dowell told his tactical team members that he often felt safer with them than when he would work alone on a traffic stop.
“He went in with his team,” said Settle, pausing as he tried to compose himself. “And it was his team that carried him out.”
The superintendant said Dowell’s death has been difficult for VSP and the community.
“Lucas’ death has weighed a little heavier on my heart. You see, it happened on my watch,” Settle said.
Dowell’s sister Erica spoke during the service on behalf of the family.
She recalled attending a funeral last year with her brother in Chilhowie for a close friend. After the viewing, they returned home to talk about life.
“Lucas said, ‘I want to do a better job of making the people I love know and feel how much I loved them,” Erica Dowell said. “Looking out over this crowd and thinking about all the love that has just been poured out over my mom, my dad and I for Lucas in the last four days, I believe even more strongly now that what I said to him then was the truth. I said, ‘Lucas, you already do that.’”
She also expressed gratitude to the VSP for their outpouring of support to the family.
“I can tell you that it has just made us more proud of the work that he did and the family he chose to join,” she said.
Dowell’s body was transported in a tactical vehicle to St. James Lutheran Church Cemetery.
State troopers, deputies and police officers from numerous Virginia agencies, as well as troopers from across the country, including as far away as Utah, Arizona, California, and Washington also attended the services. Officers from major cities, such as Chicago, Dallas and New York, were also present.
Capt. Thornell King with the Georgia State Patrol and three other troopers from the Peach State traveled to Chilhowie to support Dowell’s family.
“Although we may wear a different uniform, we are all one brotherhood,” said King, referring to a common sentiment among attendees Saturday. “All of our blood runs warm and red through our veins. We’re just here to show support. Anytime we have a loss like this, it’s such a tragedy.”
King noted that 15 law enforcement officers have so far been killed in the line of duty this year, including three in Georgia.
“It’s always a tragedy when we lose a brother,” said King, commander of the GSP honor guard. “Georgia State Patrol came down to show their support for the family of our brother.”
King said the honor guard travels across the country to attend law enforcement funerals and support the families.
“I’m all the way from the Florida/Georgia line, but I would have driven anywhere to be here today to be with the family,” King said.
Four troopers from the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Fall Branch office also attended the service, said Sgt. Nathan Hall.
“It’s like one of our own,” said Hall, who attended service at the church and then traveled in the procession to the cemetery.
The troopers from Tennessee gave Dowell’s family a THP flag, a challenge coin and a shadow box, Hall said.
Several troopers from New York, including four who previously worked in Virginia, attended the services.
Among those was Trooper Romel Arias, who currently serves in West Chester, New York, but previously worked in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area with VSP from around 2011 to 2014.
It was good to be back in Virginia, he said, and to support a fellow brother in blue. Arias said it was good to see so many fellow law enforcement officers from so many different areas.
“I’m here to support my brother,” he said, “because we’re all bonded. We are all brothers. We bond together.”
Pain suffered by one is felt by all, Arias said, and the loss of a brother is felt most deeply of all.
“You feel the pain. You feel the hurt,” he said. “We are here to extend our condolences to the family. I bring those condolences from all the brothers in New York.”
Numerous state dignitaries were in Chilhowie for the trooper’s funeral, including Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife Pam Northam; Virginia Chief of Staff Clark Mercer; Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran; Virginia Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Ryant Washington; and Virginia Deputy Attorney General Victoria Pearson.
Other attendees included Virginia Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax; Virginia Del. Ronnie R. Campbell, R-Rockbridge County; and U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem. Carrico and Campbell are former state troopers.
Dozens of Chilhowie residents lined the streets Saturday to see the procession travel through town.
“It’s just a sad day,” said resident Kathy Evans, who stood along Lee Highway with her husband, Morris Evans.
Kathy Evans said when her son served in Iraq in the military she often worried for his safety.
“I feel for his mother,” she said.
Like many Chilhowie residents, the couple, whose youngest daughter attended school with Dowell, placed their hands over their hearts as countless law enforcement vehicles passed. They stood a short distance from the Chilhowie Fire Department, which waved a large American flag over the two-lane highway.
Messages of encouragement and condolences were displayed on message boards throughout Chilhowie and other parts of the county the last several days.