One by one, they shared a private moment with the man who came to honor them for their heroic efforts on a day more than two years ago when a routine mission to apprehend a fugitive became anything but routine.
Seven men, one posthumously, were awarded the highly prestigious Congressional Badge of Bravery Friday by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Congressman David McKinley during a ceremony at the U.S. Bankruptcy courtroom in Clarksburg.
The men, all deputy U.S. Marshals, were honored for their courage during the February 2011 events in Elkins that resulted in the death of 24-year-old Derek Hotsinpiller and the wounding of Alex Neville and Wesley "Fred" Frederick.
They were in the process of serving a search and arrest warrant on 50-year-old Charles Smith at his residence on Central Street in Elkins when Smith shot Hotsinpiller in the neck with a 12-gauge shotgun, killing him.
Smith was wanted for possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine and possession of firearms while being an unlawful drug user, and he had eluded police since he was indicted on the charges by a grand jury in 2006.
"I feel it's an award every officer should get every day," Pam Hotsinpiller, Derek's mother, said at Friday's ceremony. "They keep evil at bay."
Only 59 individuals have received the Badge of Bravery since its creation in 2008. Those honored with a medal and certificate were Philip Efaw, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Marshals Service; John Hare, who has spent more than 20 years as a U.S. Marshal; Paul Hickman, who has served 16 years with the U.S. Marshals; Joseph Nichols, who has been with the service for six years; Neville, who has served 21 years as a U.S. Marshal and is a supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal; Frederick, who has been with the agency for three years; and Hotsinpiller.
"We hear the words courage and bravery so much that it has become cliche," Rockefeller said. "I have to reach for other emotions, other words. When I say the U.S. Marshals are faces of courage and bravery, I am reaching for a deeper word. I think it is in my soul, but it has not found its way to my lips."
Rockefeller praised the men's courage for continuing with the mission despite the danger, tragedy and "hail of bullets.
"You were doing so much more than your job," he said. "You got in the line of fire for each other, your country and for the integrity of the job you hold."
McKinley called the ceremony "a sobering reminder" of what law enforcement officers face every day.
"This award is reserved for the very best, the very bravest," he said, "We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Thank you for the courage you had that day and for every day you go to work for us."
McKinley displayed the small wristband bearing Hotsinpiller's name, saying he wears it daily to remind himself and those he meets of the sacrifice the Bridgeport native made that day in service to his country.
"This was a person, not a statistic," McKinley said. "Derek Hotsinpiller didn't return that day. He did what he was prepared to do. I want people to understand what that means."
Contact John Wickline by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.