First Place Writing – Spot News


‘We will never forget him’

Slain trooper’s friends and colleagues pay their respects, vow to care for his family.
By Andrew McGill

The field was hushed. Then came the low beat of the bass drum, welling forth as if from the surrounding green hills themselves, calling to attention the hundreds of men and women in uniform arrayed in respectful silence.

The snare picked up, the rat-a-tat tempo marking the appearance of the Marine Corps honor guard, the Pennsylvania State Police top brass, the costumed bagpipers — and finally the limousine carrying the casket of slain Trooper Joshua Miller, 34, who died a hero miles from home.

The procession of mourning family and friends could have wrapped halfway around the Pittston Area High School football field, where thousands gathered Friday to pay Miller their final respects.

Hundreds of police officers, some who had driven hundreds of miles, stood in perfect formation on the field. Outside the stadium, row upon row of police cruisers held silent vigil.

Gov. Ed Rendell held his hand over his heart, his shoulders bowed. He would speak some of the first words, and he said them directly to Miller’s oldest daughters, Justine, 16, and Breana, 13.

“I lost my father when I was 14,” he said, choking up. “When I lost him, I thought the world had ended. Now I reflect back — I was lucky to have him for 14 years.”

He almost had to stop. “The truth is, even though you think you’ve lost your dad, you won’t,” he said. “You will never lose him. We will never forget him.”

Miller also was the father of 2-year-old Joslyn.

He spent his final moments under a hail of bullets, laying down cover fire as officers pulled a 9-year-old boy from a crashed car on Route 611 in Monroe County. Shot in the throat by Daniel Autenrieth of Palmer Township, who had led police on a 40-mile car chase, Miller kept firing. He was later pronounced dead at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest.

Autenrieth, who was 31 and the boy’s father, was killed by police gunfire, one of the shots fired by Miller after he had been hit. The boy was unscathed.

Miller was the sixth police officer in Pennsylvania killed in the line of duty this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

During the services at the sun-drenched field, at least four officers fell ill from the heat, including a state police lieutenant taken off the football field on a stretcher.

Friends and colleagues stepped up to the podium again and again to say goodbye to the man they say died as he had lived — with courage.

Miller was a man who loved a good laugh, a good meal and a free T-shirt, said Wyoming County Chief Detective David Ide. The Marine veteran must have had a thousand, collected from community runs and charity events. He loved to hunt and was liable to spin tall tales about tracking a bear 40 miles into the woods and wrestling it to the ground, Ide said, adding that Miller always would admit his wife, Angela, was the better hunter.

He loved his family, speakers said, and he loved his fellow police officers. When another trooper told Miller he had marked him as a pallbearer for his funeral, Miller said it wasn’t necessary: “He wouldn’t let anything happen to his brothers,” said Col. Frank Pawlowski, state police commissioner.

And he kept that promise even to the end, as he crouched under fire by a guardrail on Route 611, Pawlowski said.

“There was no compromise of duty,” he said. “Evil was met with courage.”

Miller was a long way from his hometown of Pittston when he died. The police procession following the memorial service brought him back, hundreds of cars climbing past the rows of townspeople crowded on sidewalks, under a makeshift arch formed by the crossed ladders of two fire engines. He was laid to rest in Laceyville, Wyoming County, where his wife grew up.

The burial site was peaceful, cradled by the great green hills Miller loved. Before his casket was interred, his widow leaned over for one last kiss.

Pawlowski posthumously awarded Miller the state police Medal of Honor, giving it to Angela, a state police communications operator.

“Don’t worry,” Ide said, addressing his departed friend at the memorial. “Like you did on Earth, we will all stand side by side to take care of your family.”