The line could have been for one of the polls in 13 states on Super Tuesday, but this line in Virginia stretched far longer and was not of voters, but of mourners.
It led not to a ballot but to the flag-covered coffin of a Prince William County cop who had been killed during her very first shift.
And the name that mattered inside the Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge was not Donald Trump or Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz or Gov. John Kasich or Dr. Ben Carson or Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Police Officer Ashley Guindon.
The stark fact of her untimely death and the poignant details of her brief life offered actual truths that by comparison show the blatherings of the campaigns to be self-serving sacrilege. She leaves us with an example that is more worthy of following than those who strive so strenuously to lead us.
Ashley Guindon had herself stood by a flag-covered coffin back in 2004, when she was a junior in high school. Her father, Air National Guard Sgt. David Guindon, had committed suicide one day after he returned from being deployed to Iraq. He had previously served in the Navy and the Marine Corps Reserves. He had hoped to go into law enforcement but had been injured in a car accident. He was still able to sign on with the Air National Guard. He had been 48 when he headed off to war.
The father had always been upbeat and engaging but is said to have become withdrawn during the months of driving in harrowing convoys through the Sunni Triangle amid IEDs and RPGs and automatic weapons fire. He may have felt the stress all the more because most of those with whom he served were much younger and instinctively looked to him for a steadying presence. He once said he was not so much afraid of dying as of missing his only child’s graduation.
The father had seemed restored to his old self as he and his fellow airmen returned to a joyous welcome at an airfield in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was back in the embrace of his wife and daughter.
“It feels fantastic,” he exulted to a reporter that day. “It’s hard to explain it—it feels so good. I’m just going to take today slow, wake up tomorrow and see what it’s like to be back in a normal place.”
Perhaps waking in normal Merrimack, New Hampshire, caused him to feel all at once how un-normal combat had been and how changed he had been despite the appearances otherwise. Or maybe he was suffering the side effects of anti-malaria medication.
Whatever it was, he was so overwhelmed that he sought to end it by shooting himself. He was given a military funeral, and everybody with any sense considered him a casualty of war.
Ashley Guindon graduated the following year from Merrimack High School without her father. Her yearbook read, “Mom, thanks for everything…It’ll be a long road but we can manage, and it will only make us stronger…As I take flight, it only makes me closer to you, Daddy.”
She inscribed her personal motto as “Live for something rather than die for nothing.”
She proceeded to follow her father into the Marine Corps Reserves. She volunteered to assist in the Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs Office, which handles the remains of the fallen. She also worked a suicide hotline, hoping to help save others from her father’s fate. She pitched in at a soup kitchen.
After earning a master’s degree in forensic science at George Washington University, she fulfilled her father’s dream of going into law enforcement. She settled in Virginia and entered the police academy in Prince William County. She was sworn in on Feb. 26. The department tweeted a photo of her and another new cop.
“Welcome Officers Steven Kendall & Ashley Guindon who were sworn in today & begin their shifts this weekend. Be safe!”
Guindon reported for her first tour of field training the next day. She and her training officer, Jesse Hempen, responded to an address where a woman had called 911 to report that her husband had turned physically abusive. Domestic disputes are statistically the most dangerous situations for a cop.
Guindon and Hempen arrived at the address along with Officer David McKeowan. They there encountered 32-year-old Ronald Hamilton, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound active duty Army sergeant assigned to the Pentagon. Hamilton is the son of a retired Charlestown, South Carolina, police supervisor. He had been deployed twice to Iraq, in 2003 and in 2005, though he may not have seen combat.
“When officers arrived on the scene they were met by the accused at the front door,” court papers say of Saturday’s encounter. “The accused fired a rifle from the area of the front door striking three officers.”
All three officers were shot. Guindon was fatally wounded. Hamilton and McKeowan had survivable injuries.
More cops arrived and showed professional restraint as they subdued a man alleged to have just shot three of their own, killing one.
On searching the house, police found the suspect’s 29-year-old wife, Crystal Hamilton, in a bedroom. Her husband had become increasingly controlling and possessive. He was unreasonably jealous about the men with whom she necessarily worked as a recovery care coordinator with the Marines’ Wounded Warriors Regiment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. One co-worker decided that Crystal Hamilton’s devotion as a mother to her only son helped make her so effective, particularly with disabled Marines who had no family there to assist them. Her husband may have resented those connections, perhaps all the more so if he had not been in combat himself.
The husband had put a tracking device on his wife’s car and had once burst into a restaurant, dragging her away from friends with whom she was having dinner. She is said to have planned to go to a movie on Saturday night. She now instead lay dead with a gunshot wound.
“The accused made statements to law enforcement officers stating that he shot his wife and the police officers,” the court papers further report.
Along with calling 911, Crystal Hamilton had used her final moments to tell the couple’s 11-year-old son to flee. The youngster had bolted from the house in a T-shirt and basketball shorts and dashed down the street, looking back over his shoulder on hearing gunshots.
On Monday night, county residents of all backgrounds and persuasions solemnly stood along the roads as more police vehicles than seemed possible escorted Guindon’s body in a procession starting from the Mountcastle Funeral Home. Emergency lights flashed into the darkness as the radio cars and motorcycles looped around the police station and continued on to Hylton Memorial Chapel. The sight as filmed from above was transfixingly beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking.
On Super Tuesday, voters were lined up at the Virginia polls where the big names were Trump and Clinton. That other, far longer line formed where the only name was Guindon. A constant stream of mourners filed through the chapel for the viewing beginning at 10 a.m. More than 3,000 crowded inside for the noon funeral. The flag covering the coffin was replaced by the white pall of the church, and Rev. Gerard Creeden stepped up.
“Sworn in February 26,” Creeden intoned to the gathering. “Killed February 27, the line of duty.”
Creeden said Guindon had “loved creation in all its forms; the air, dogs, birds, loved to dance, loved to read, travel.”
The priest spoke of this present season not as the time of primaries but as the time of Lent, when “believers seek the desert, the wilderness, the place of the wild beast, to struggle with God and God’s purposes.”
He said Guindon had been very clear about her own purpose.
“She sought the life of a peacemaker…She sought to resolve a conflict. In her name, let us all study the ways and the method of conflict resolution.”
He went on, “Would that her death might signal an end to the violence, would that it might silence the sound of gunfire in our neighborhoods and nation.”
He reiterated, “She was a police woman and a peace officer. May we all learn in her name to wage peace.”
He marveled at the steadiness of the fallen officer’s mother, Sharon Guindon, who had lost a husband and now her only daughter.
“Sharon is looking not to her own hurt but to the dignity and the joy that is Ashley,” he said. “Let us all stand today with a small measure of that faith and courage.”
The mourners had been given a program that included a biography of Ashley Guindon prepared by the police department. One detail was sure to stay with everybody who read it.
“The only thing that rivaled her fascination of birds and nature was her love for her furry best friend, her pet pug, Scout.”
The coffin was covered with the flag again before it was carried into the sunshine, where a pair of fire department ladder trucks had raised a far bigger flag. Thousands of officers saluted and citizens stood in silent respect in this one place on Super Tuesday where there were no divisions, where we were all simply us, the U.S.A.
The coffin was transported to her father’s original hometown and resting place, West Springfield, Massachusetts. A family funeral will be held there on Sunday.
On Monday, Police Officer Ashley Guindon will be buried beside her father. She will remain an example for us to follow, no matter who becomes our next leader.