Killer's death reminds us of sacrifice by police
It's difficult to imagine the emotions for the family of the late Cpl. David Witmer upon hearing the news that the man who took their loved one's life is now dead, too.
After more than 29 years in prison as a convicted cop killer, Preston Pfeifly died Saturday at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview at age 63. The former Trevorton resident lived nearly half of his life behind bars after being charged with shooting Witmer on Nov. 13, 1983.
Witmer is the only police officer to have died in the line of duty in Shamokin history.
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A News-Item file photo that shows Witmer's coffin and a large contingent of police officers saluting at his funeral at Shamokin Area High School gymnasium from 1983 is black and white. It suggests some long-past era when terrible things like this happened.
But 30 years ago wasn't that different from today, and neither was this case unique in the sense of how it started. Pfeifly was a self-employed truck driver who went on a jealous rampage following a drinking spree. He set fire to a garage in the 1200 block of Susquehanna Street.
His actions prompted Zerbe Township police to call for backup, and Witmer, despite being the senior officer on duty in Shamokin who could have sent a subordinate, chose to respond. A single shot from Pfeifly's long rifle struck Witmer in the neck and killed him.
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Today's police officers - including people like Ralpho Township Chief Stuart Appel, who was wounded in the same Pfeifly incident nearly 30 years ago - confront similar circumstances daily in their jobs today. It seems, in fact, that the volume of disturbances - shootings, stabbings, vehicle chases and assaults related to drug abuse - is even higher.
With that, we remain thankful that the scene from the gym at Shamokin Area from 1983 has not since been repeated.
As District Attorney Tony Rosini said during a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of Witmer's death in 2008: "We must never forget his sacrifice. And we should also never forget the sacrifice and danger each of these fine men take on when they go to work every day, never knowing what they will confront."
On the somber occasion of his killer's death, even all these years later, let's all take a moment to remember Cpl. David Witmer.