Obama, Holder offer words at slain marshal's funeral

27-year-old marshal died in a shootout March 10 after he and others arrived at a motel to arrest a fugitive

By Margaret Baker
The Sun Herald

MOSS POINT, Miss. — On slain deputy U.S. Marshal Josie Wells' 20th birthday, he put his future wife on the spot.

"I asked him, 'What do you want for your birthday?'" Channing Wells said to a crowd of hundreds of law enforcement officials, family and friends gathered at her husband's funeral Tuesday.

"He laughed and said, 'You can be my girlfriend.' How do you turn someone down when it's their birthday?"

From then on, they were a couple.

But Channing Wells said she got him back.

"I guarantee on every birthday (he had), I got gifts," she said, "because I considered that our anniversary then."

Wells, 27, died in a shootout March 10 after he and others arrived at a North Baton Rouge motel to arrest a fugitive, Jamie Croom, 31. Croom was wanted in the double slaying of a brother and sister outside a New Roads, La., nightclub after Mardi Gras.

Wells was hit in the neck by a bullet, according to a report in The Advocate.

One of his partners drove him to Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary, where he died from blood loss. Croom, also shot, died of his wound a day later.

The FBI and Baton Rouge police are investigating the shootings.

Wells was the first U.S. marshal killed in the line of duty since 2011.

Special Memories
Channing Wells shared three other special memories of her life with her husband, one being a night when they saw a shooting star and her husband told her to make a wish.

"He said, 'Don't tell me what it is but I better be included in that wish,'" she said. "My wish was if this man is meant for me, let him be my husband."

She didn't tell him what her wish was until they married.

Channing Wells talked about other special occasions, including a time last year when they had a mini-picnic in the back of her husband's pickup. She said they had just moved home to Mississippi and leaned back and talked about how blessed they felt to be back.

Then on Christmas Day last year, she said, her most memorable moment between them came when she learned they were going to have a baby. They'd had trouble conceiving, she said, something most didn't know. As soon as she told Josie Wells, she said, he grabbed her hand and knelt to the ground and prayed.

Channing Wells said she takes great comfort in knowing her husband was able to hear his unborn son's heartbeat during a doctor visit before he died. She plans to name their son Josie Wells Jr.

After law enforcement officials came to her workplace last week to tell her the news, she said she knew in her heart if Josie was meant to still be here, he would be.

His last words, she said, were, "'Pray with me.'

"If that doesn't make me proud, I don't know what does," she said before directing her comments straight to her late husband.

"Josie," she said, "I want you to wait for me because in eternity, that is where forever is. I'm preparing for the next time I see my king."

Wells A Hero
During the funeral service, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the director of the U.S. Marshals Service and other marshals who worked with Josie Wells over the years, and others remembered him as a devoted law enforcement officer, a son, a brother and friend who had an infectious smile and lived life to the fullest with faith, compassion and joy for others.

Several marshals talked about times they hung out together.

One marshal from the St. Louis office remembered a time when Wells befriended a young boy who confided he was being abused by his mother's boyfriend. Wells got involved and soon learned a warrant was out for the man's arrest. After the man was taken into custody, the marshal said, Wells felt like he'd done something to protect the young boy.

Holder asked mourners to remember Wells as an American hero.

"Today we remember Deputy Marshal Wells for all that he was, both to those within this church and to the many he inspired far beyond these walls," Holder said. "We are here today to grieve a man taken from us far too suddenly and far too soon and to celebrate an extraordinary life lived with abiding love, with compassionate purpose, and with deep and uncommon valor."

Holder also read a letter President Barak Obama wrote offering condolences to Wells' wife.

"As a Deputy United States Marshal, Josie devoted himself to keeping America safe and upholding the laws and ideals that make us who we are," the president's letter said. "America is forever grateful to the men and women who put themselves in harm's way for people across our nation, and we honor your husband for his courageous and selfless service. In the difficult days ahead, may you find solace in your cherished memories and comfort in the support of loved ones. Please know you and your entire family will remain in my thoughts and prayers."

Tradition Of Law Enforcement
Holder offered his own sympathies to the family.

"To his friends in (his hometown of) Hurley ... he was a kid with a million-dollar smile whose adventurous style and audacious horse-riding lived up to his name, which his father chose based on (the film) 'The Outlaw Josey Wales.'

"Every day for more than four years — first in Missouri and more recently in Mississippi — Deputy Marshal Wells proudly wore the badge of the U.S. Marshals Service as he defended our system of law and pursued fugitives from justice. He knew well the risk involved in his work, but he did not hesitate to put his own life on the line in order to protect the country he loved. And the importance of his efforts, and those of his colleagues in maintaining order, in keeping the peace, in apprehending dangerous criminals, and in safeguarding our system of justice would be difficult to overstate."

Wells joined the U.S. marshals in 2011 after a four-month college internship in the Jackson district branch. Prior to assignment in the Baton Rouge area, Wells served as a marshal for three years in St. Louis.

He graduated from East Central High School in Hurley nearly a decade ago, but his former teachers still remember the impact he made on the school's tight-knit community.

Veteran teachers said he left such a positive impression because of his strict work ethic and his sense of integrity.

While in high school, Wells was a defensive tackle, and his three brothers played football there as well.

After graduation in 2006, he attended Jackson State University, a lifelong dream of his to study criminal justice at the alma mater of several family members.

His father, Obie Wells Sr., retired from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department. His brother Obie Wells Jr. worked for the Jackson Police Department.

Wells is survived by his wife, his father and mother, Sherry Wells, siblings and other relatives.

"As we take him to his rest today, I would ask that you remember this true American hero not for how he lost his life, but for how he lived it — with faith, compassion and with the joy that only those who truly give, truly give, can ever really experience," Holder said. "This was a good and decent man — an example to us all."

Copyright 2015 The Sun Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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