DEXTER — During a funeral that drew hundreds of police from at least four states, a Missouri state patrolman ambushed and slain outside his home was tearfully eulogized Thursday as a Christian man who masterfully blended passion for his job with adoration for his 4-year-old son.
“Family, you’re wrapped in blue; they’re all around,” Denny McGinley — alluding to mourners largely dressed in police uniforms — told Sgt. Carl Dewayne Graham Jr.’s survivors at a packed First Baptist Church in this Missouri Bootheel town where Graham grew up.
Graham, 37, was fatally shot Sunday outside his home near Van Buren and died in his uniform. Though he had completed his shift that day, the patrol has ruled that Graham — a 12-year veteran of the force — was the 24th state trooper to die on the job.
The farewell to Graham, a divorced father who was engaged to marry a state conservation worker, seldom was without tears during a service that drew about 700 mourners, largely state troopers and other police from Missouri and troopers from neighboring Kansas, Arkansas and Illinois.
Barely able to speak through his sobs, Missouri patrol Cpl. Craig Ponder recited what his slain best friend once wrote on a form all in the patrol must complete in the grim event tragedy or violence befalls them: “If I die on the job, I would like people to be made aware I was killed doing something I believe in and loved to do.”
“Dewayne gave everything in anything he did,” Ponder cried, repeatedly wiping away tears as he spoke near Graham’s closed casket, draped in a Missouri state flag. A portrait photograph of Graham was nearby.
“To say that I’ll miss Dewayne is an understatement,” Ponder said in closing, pausing to regroup as he choked back tears. “But I’ll miss him dearly. God bless you, Dewayne. You’re our hero.”
Many mourners dabbed away tears as Ponder spoke for about 15 minutes.
Through it all, Graham’s young son Hayden — barely visible above his chair in the first row, near his daddy’s casket — rested his head on a loved one’s shoulder.
Although divorced from Hayden’s mother, Graham spent virtually all his available free time with his son, eulogists said. One camping trip, Ponder recalled, Hayden’s run-in with poison ivy and chiggers left him an itching, scratching mess — “almost one big red dot.”
Still, Ponder said, Hayden “was talking a million miles an hour, talking about all the fish he caught, with Dewayne standing by with a big grin.”
“Dewayne was a dandy dad,” said McGinley, a cousin of Graham’s.
As the police community paused in Graham’s memory, investigators were scrutinizing a 28-year-old Van Buren man as a “person of interest” in the slaying. The man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of leaving the scene of a fatal November crash that Graham investigated in Carter County. At the time of his death Sunday, Graham was zone supervisor for Carter and Reynolds counties.
Patrol Sgt. Larry Plunkett on Thursday said the patrol continued its scrutiny of Graham’s past cases, looking for anyone who might have held a grudge.
A fund for Graham’s son has been set up at First Midwest Bank in Van Buren.