Slain Pa. game officer laid to rest

David Grove was the first Pennsylvania game officer killed in the line of duty since 1915

By Amy Worden
The Philadelphia Inquirer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Under a pink-hued sunset sky with church bells tolling, a procession of law enforcement vehicles at least a mile long followed the hearse carrying the body of Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove down Main Street to a cemetery on Sunday.

At least 1,500 people, including hundreds of officers representing law enforcement agencies from Washington to Maine, along with Gov. Rendell, crowded into Waynesboro Regional High School to pay their respects to Grove, who was shot and killed while responding to a case of poaching near Gettysburg on Nov. 11.

Among the speakers at the service was Grove's brother Chad, who recalled how they had chased pheasants together and how eager they were as 12-year-olds to get junior hunting licenses.

"We were proud of the job you did," Chad Grove said at the service. "And the people you touched along the way."

Grove, 31, of Fairfield, was the first Pennsylvania game officer killed in the line of duty since 1915. A full-time officer for just two years, he was investigating a report of night hunting about two miles from Gettysburg National Military Park when he was killed.

He stopped two men in a pickup about 10:30 p.m., shortly after they had killed a buck in a cornfield. Grove was trying to handcuff Christopher L. Johnson when, police say, Johnson pulled out a .45-caliber handgun, prompting a "ferocious firefight."

Johnson, 27, of Fairfield, has been charged in Grove's death and is held without bail in the Adams County jail.

Friends and fellow officers remembered Grove as a happy-go-lucky person who loved to laugh and was deeply committed to his work and his Christian faith.

They called him the consummate game officer and lover of wildlife and the outdoors.

"He had contagious enthusiasm and a positive attitude," said Chris Krebs, who served with Grove in Centre County when Grove was attending Pennsylvania State University. "He represented everything an officer could and should be."

Conservation Officer Kevin Mountz, who patrols nearby Fulton County, met Grove when the latter signed up as a volunteer deputy game officer in 2000 and watched him grow from a novice to a teacher.

"He was the type of officer who made you a better officer," Mountz said.

Turning to Grove's parents, Dana and Lucy Grove of Waynesboro, Mountz told them their son "lived his dream." He promised that his fellow game officers who patrol the "thin green line" across Pennsylvania would "keep Dave's memory alive and continue to live his dream for him."

After the ceremony, a lone bagpiper led the pallbearers, six Pennsylvania game officers, carrying Grove's flag-draped casket to the hearse as about 800 officers stood at attention in the parking lot.

At the grave, game officers presented the American flag to Grove's mother as a state police helicopter flew overhead. Grove's badge and radio call number, 416, were retired.

On Sunday, "they called three times and there was no reply," said Jerry Feaser, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. "They marked the time and date when he was killed and officially retired his number."

Conservation officers from other states said they knew too well the dangers of patrolling in the wild, often at night and almost always alone.

Capt. Ron Henry, a Virginia conservation police officer, said he ended up in intensive care after being run over by a man on an ATV a few years ago. He remembers getting cards from Pennsylvania game officers at the time, and on Sunday he led a delegation of 13 Virginia officers at the funeral.

"We're here because the commission is our sister agency and we all do the same type of work," he said afterward. "It's important to lend our support."

Grove received a hero's farewell in the town where he was born, about 70 miles southwest of Harrisburg near the Maryland line.

Hundreds lined Main Street, holding flags as the funeral procession rolled slowly toward Green Hill Cemetery, just below the mountains where Grove spent many hours tracking deer and casting his fishing lines in the peace of the forest.

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