Honor watch creates space for officers and family to mourn, celebrate and heal

St. George police Sgt. Choli Ence and officer Vance Bithell stand watch over the body of Adam Ashworth, St. George, Utah, Aug. 3, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Police officers from around Washington County recently joined an honor watch at Serenity Funeral Home to mourn the death of St. George Police Officer Adam Ashworth.

Sg.t Choli Ence at Serenity Funeral Home, St. George, Utah, Aug. 3, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Ashworth’s casket has been on view since July 22, when the 39-year-old officer died unexpectedly. Since then, there have been two officers dressed in their Class A uniforms, standing vigil, watching over Ashworth 24 hours a day for seven days a week.

The honor watch is meant to facilitate a community-wide mourning process, but St. George Police Chief Kyle Whitehead told St. George News it’s also about celebrating the life of the deceased.

“It’s a small token of our ability to offer support to Officer Ashworth’s family,” Whitehead said. “It’s important that we mourn our fallen brother, but we also want to commemorate his career and life.”

Sgt. Choli Ence told St. George News that she agreed with Whitehead’s sentiments.

“As law enforcement officers, we spend our lives helping and protecting our communities,” she said. “The honor watch gives us time to reflect upon our fallen brother’s life, career and service. It gives us time to mourn. It also gives us time to slow down and reflect upon our own lives.”

Ence, who’s been with the St. George Police Department for more than 16 years, joined Ashworth’s honor watch Tuesday morning at 4 a.m. with her partner, Officer Vance Bithell.

Officer Vance Bithell, St. George, Utah, Aug. 3, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

“It’s an honor to serve him,” said Bithell, who’s been with the St. George Police Department for 25 years. “It also gives us an opportunity to show our last respects in a more meaningful way. I’ve been comforted and impressed by the way the community and the department have rallied around the Ashworth family.”

The officers, who volunteer their time around regular shifts, stand watch for four hours at a time. The mood in the room – a large, open space lined with chairs around the perimeter – was somber. It’s silent for much of the time, save for the sounds of a fountain bubbling in the lobby.

While standing watch, many thoughts flow through the officers’ minds.

“I think we all do a lot of reflecting,” Ence said. “We reflect upon Adam’s life, upon his service. We’re also reflecting upon our own lives, our own mortality. We’re asking ourselves if there are changes we’d like to make and what we need to do to live the lives we envisioned for ourselves.”

Adam Ashworth’s casket at Serenity Funeral Home, St. George, Utah, Aug. 3, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Bithell said that no officer knows when their proverbial time will come, “but it’s comforting to know that, when we do, we’ll receive the same kind of support.”

Ence said a certain kind of bond exists among emergency responders.

“He looked after us when he was alive,” Ence said. “Now we’re looking after him until he’s laid to rest.”

At 8 a.m., Ence and Bithell were relieved by officers Steve Linton and Rudy Gracia. Duane Lamoreaux, funeral counselor and co-owner of Serenity Funeral Home, said goodbye to one set of officers before greeting the next.

“We’re very fussy about each detail,” Lamoreaux told St. George News. “Especially when it’s a service member. And especially when we know the deceased.”

Lamoreaux’s eyes teared up as he described the relationships between his colleagues and the Ashworth family.

Funeral counselor and Serenity Funeral Home co-owner Duane Lamoreaux, St. George, Utah, Aug. 3, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

“I know I shouldn’t cry,” he said. “But this one hit close to home.”

After wiping tears from his eyes with a handkerchief, he smiled and cracked a joke he’d been making all morning.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “We haven’t had to worry about security since July 22. The officers who’ve served on this watch are wonderful.”

Gracia told St. George News that more than just a colleague, he was a friend of Ashworth’s.

“Adam joined the department a few months before I did,” he said. “He was quiet, so you couldn’t always tell what he was thinking. But his decision-making was never in question.”

Gracia paused there, trying to find the words to describe his friend.

“That doesn’t really do him justice,” Gracia added. “He was a great officer.”

Linton said that he felt honored to be part of the watch. Of the bond shared by officers around the world, Linton said that they were each willing to do anything to help for anybody at anytime.

Steve Linton Class A uniform gloves, St. George, Utah, Aug. 3, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

“And that includes risking your life,” Linton said. “There are only a few professions where that’s the case. I’m here because I want to pay my respects to Adam and his family. I also want to honor his commitment to serving our community and being willing to risk his life to help others.”

Whitehead said that organizing an honor watch is no small task.

“I owe a huge thank you to the agencies and the officers who helped make this happen,” Whitehead said. “Most agencies in Washington County participated, and we even had help from outside the county.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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