BISMARCK–More than 2,000 people turned out Thursday to honor a fallen Bismarck police officer remembered for his dedication to his family and his passion to serve his community.
Hundreds of uniformed police officers from across the state and the nation attended the funeral service for Sgt. Steve Kenner at the Bismarck Civic Center and the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery.
Kenner, 56, was shot and killed last Friday after responding to a domestic violence call.
He is the first Bismarck police officer killed in the line of duty and the first in North Dakota in 15 years.
Kenner touched people’s lives far beyond the Bismarck-Mandan area, said Grant Benjamin, a Fargo police officer who is also president of the North Dakota Fraternal Order of Police.
Law enforcement officers at the funeral came from at least a dozen states, including California, Delaware and Oklahoma, he said.
“It’s the ultimate respect to pay for one of our brothers in blue,” Benjamin said.
The two-hour funeral service began with Bismarck police officers leading the 10-minute procession, hats in hand, followed by a steady stream of law enforcement officials from various agencies.
Mayor John Warford and Police Chief Keith Witt were among those to give eulogies.
“We are a community that is still in shock,” Warford said. “He was a great police officer, and he went above and beyond the call of duty for law enforcement. He truly exemplified ˜to protect and to serve.’ ”
Kenner was remembered for his devotion to his fellow officers and taking care of others ahead of himself.
He began working for the Bismarck Police Department in 1979. In 1981, he enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard to pursue training as a military police officer.
In 1992, he married his wife, Debbie. They have four children: James, 27; Stephen, 18; Kailey, 14; and Tayler, 9.
Although he appeared “rough and tough,” he was soft on the inside, said family friend Penny Wedin-Gorden of Bismarck. He was looking forward to retiring soon, she said.
Witt remembered Kenner as someone who was always called on when help was needed. He had a “great passion and energy” and would go above and beyond, Witt said.
The Bismarck Civic Center estimated 1,700 people attended the funeral service. Teresa Madche, who worked for Bismarck-Burleigh County 911 for 23 years, said she went to the funeral to show respect.
“And to be with people who understand the loss that we’re going through,” she said.
Dave Ell of Bismarck is a retired police officer who worked with Kenner for many years.
“He was kind. He was gentle. He was big. He was fair. All-around good guy,” he said.
After the funeral, hundreds lined the streets in Bismarck-Mandan to show their respect, wave flags and hold signs as the funeral procession made its way to theNorth Dakota Veterans Cemetery.
Roger Buechler of Bismarck and his son, Judah, 10, were among those waiting outside the Civic Center. They held a sign stating, “Hero.”
“When somebody gives their life for others, we should give them the ultimate respect we can,” Buechler said of why he was standing there.
Lawrele Johnson of Bismarck and co-workers from the Dakota Eye Institute lined a block holding flags.
“We just wanted to show our respect for his honor and bravery,” she said.
Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes said 15 to 20 Fargo officers attended the funeral. Law enforcement officials across the state know each other on a personal level, he said.
“It’s very important we not only demonstrate support for one another, but it just goes to demonstrate to citizens how well we work together,” he said of the outpouring of officers who attended the funeral.
Eight Grand Forks officers attended the funeral.
“We’re a law enforcement family,” Grand Forks police Lt. Mike Ferguson said. “We feel it’s important to support the family in a time of crisis, and this is a time of crisis.”
Seven Jamestown officers went to show their support, including Lt. Robert Opp and Sgt. Thomas Nagel. Both worked with Kenner through the North Dakota Fraternal Order of Police. Nagel said he wanted to “just support my brothers.”
Dickinson police Lt. Dave Wallace said 11 officers from Dickinson attended the funeral.
“Law enforcement is a family and, even though he was a Bismarckpolice officer, he’s still part of a family, and it’s important to support that family,” he said.
Steven Bannister, 52, has been charged with killing Kenner. He is being held without bond in Burleigh County.
The following poem was read at the funeral of Bismarck police Sgt. Steve Kenner on Thursday:
â€œA Part of America Diedâ€
Somebody killed a policeman today,
and a part of America died.
A piece of our country he swore to protect,
will be buried with him at his side.
The suspect that shot him will stand up in court,
with counsel demanding his rights.
While a young widowed mother must work for her kids,
and spend many long, lonely nights.
The beat that he walked was a battle field too,
just as if he’d gone off to war.
Though the flag of our nation won’t fly at half mast,
to his name they will add a gold star.
Yes, somebody killed a policeman today,
in your town or mine.
While we slept in comfort behind our locked doors,
a cop put his life on the line.
Now his ghost walks a beat on a dark city street,
and he stands at each new rookie’s side.
He answered the call, of himself gave his all,
and a part of America died.