KODIAK, Alaska - Six days after a double murder that left two Coast Guard employees dead, more than 900 Kodiak residents attended a solemn memorial service in a hangar at Kodiak's Coast Guard base.
Dignitaries including Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Coast Guard Pacific Area commander Vice Adm. Manson Brown offered condolences Wednesday to the families of Richard Belisle and James "Jim" Hopkins.
"The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude," Treadwell said in his address.
Last Thursday's shooting at the Coast Guard communications station left many in Kodiak shocked and demanding answers. While the FBI continues to investigate the case, the Coast Guard has responded by marshaling grief counselors and rallying around the families.
"I'd say the Coast Guard has a model approach, an outpouring of love and affection, and the response has been amazing," said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District, which includes all of Alaska.
Those who attended the memorial included Coast Guardsmen, other military servicemen and ordinary Kodiak residents who simply wanted to offer their support.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Peter Van Ness, commander of the communications station, spoke about the character of Hopkins and Belisle.
"They were men who loved the Coast Guard, Kodiak and even more their families," Van Ness said. "They were men full of honor, courage and passion for their families."
Communications station servicemen have received a flood of emails, phone calls, and voicemails from friends and Coast Guardsmen across the country, he said.
"This outpour of support shows us thousands in Kodiak were affected and tens of thousands in the Coast Guard."
Losing two shipmates hasn't been easy for the station, but the Coast Guard is doing its best to respond.
"In times like this the Coast Guard leans on each other for support," said Capt. Karl Moore, commander of the large r Coast Guard Base Kodiak. "We're going to get through it together. There are no other options."
Kodiak city Mayor Pat Branson attended the memorial and was impressed with the amount of community support. "There was a wonderful turnout from the community," Branson said. "I'm amazed at Cmdr. Van Ness and how courageously he spoke. It was admirable."
Many at the memorial service sported buttons bearing an image designed by Sean Lawler, a Coast Guardsman on the East Coast.
The image includes a picture of a communications tower, an outline of Alaska with a star on Kodiak, and the names of the two men.
Communications station wives Jennifer Jordinelli, Sally Reed and Monique Reckner made more than 300 pins to hand out to family, friends and station members, thanks to a donation of supplies by Main Elementary.
T-shirts with a memorial design will soon be available for purchase, and all proceeds will be divided equally between the two families. In addition, the Chief Petty Officers and Chief Warrant Officers Association of Kodiak Island is putting together a website with a link to a memorial account to assist the Hopkins and Belisle families and honor their fallen shipmates. All proceeds will be divided equally between the two families. The website will be up and running by the end of the week.
Funeral services for Belisle and Hopkins have been scheduled for this week.
The Belisle family will have a closed service on Thursday for family and friends only. The Hopkins family invites friends, Coast Guardsmen and the public to attend a memorial 6-9 p.m. Thursday at the Kodiak Funeral Chapel and the service at the Base Chapel at 1 p.m. Friday.