Honoring the fallen

Wednesday, February 16, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:44 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The notes of “Ode to Joy,” the heavy steps of friends and family, and muffled whispers and sobs were the only sounds inside Mizzou Arena on Tuesday afternoon. A gym so full of people is rarely so silent. A single-file line wound slowly down from the top of the bleachers, across the gymnasium floor and ended where Columbia police Officer Molly Bowden’s body lay in her dress uniform, adorned with a medal.

Before the service began, more than a thousand mourners had stopped to stand before the casket. Some left flowers on the floor beside it.

More than 100 officers from the Columbia Police Department; representatives of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department; members of the Columbia and Boone County fire departments; and law enforcement officers from all over the state and as far away as Texas also filed past Bowden’s open casket. Many stopped to salute.

Bowden, 26, died Thursday from complications related to gunshot wounds she suffered last month during a traffic stop. The Medal of Valor, the police department’s highest honor, had been pinned to her police uniform.

More than 2,000 people attended the service, including Gov. Matt Blunt, Rep. Kenny Hulshof and Mayor Darwin Hindman.

As Bowden’s parents, David and Beverly Thomas; husband, Corey Bowden; brother, Matt Thomas; and two stepsons entered the arena, the crowd rose.

Dressed in a suit instead of his Columbia Police uniform, Corey Bowden stood next to his wife’s casket as scores of his fellow officers filed by and hugged him or whispered words of support. When that line came to an end, Corey Bowden stood and gazed down at his wife for a few seconds, head bowed.

When he returned to his seat, the casket was closed and a funeral service commemorating his wife’s life and public service began. Much was said about the strength of Molly Bowden’s faith and the example she set in her daily life.

Michael Burt, the pastor of her church who acted as the family’s representative in the four weeks between her shooting and her death, acknowledged those who came bearing anger in their hearts. With Molly, all is forgiven, he said.

Doug Phillips, the pastor of Centerpoint Church and a longtime family friend, spoke of the friendship and similarities between his 26-year-old daughter and Molly Bowden. His daughter died more than a year ago.

The two women shared a love of horses and “an insatiable appetite for life,” before they both “found a new address in heaven,” he said.

He read aloud Psalm 139, the two women’s favorite and the last entry his daughter wrote in her diary before she died of cancer.

Columbia Police Chief Randall Boehm praised Bowden as a police officer and a person.

“She was a visible symbol of a hero to the community,” he said.

Hulshof talked about Bowden’s life of service.

“It is not the manner in which we die that is important, but the manner in which we have lived,” he said. “Molly lived a lifetime in her 26 years.”

That lifetime was on display on the arena’s video screen. There were photos of her as a child, with her horse, at her wedding in Jamaica, and laughing with colleagues in the police department.

Her life in Columbia was on display in photos of her graduating from Hickman High School and eating pizza at Shakespeare’s.

As music played along with the images, a family friend, Kathleen Alexander, signed the lyrics. But the photos overwhelmed her. She was forced to stop signing to wipe tears from her face.

When it was all over, the Columbia Police Department stood up as a group and left in procession. They formed two lines, and Bowden’s flag-draped casket was carried out between them.

An officer’s voice rang out, “Present arms!”

White-gloved hands rose from a line of blue in a final salute to their colleague, the first of their family to die in the line of duty.

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