Whether patrolling the roads, helping field medical calls or removing a snake from an alarmed resident's home, Indian Harbour Beach Police Officer Madison Merritt was "a breath of fresh air" in her small, tight-knit department, Cmdr. Ralph Garcia remembers.
"She always had a smile on her face and was always eager to learn. Always willing to help out anybody in the community, any of her fellow officers. Good positive attitude," Garcia said.
"Definitely, she was the epitome of what an Indian Harbour Beach police officer should be," he said.
Merritt, a 24-year-old Melbourne resident, was killed in a Dec. 27 motorcycle crash on the Pineda Causeway in South Patrick Shores, two days after Christmas.
She was driving a motorcycle westbound about 2:40 a.m. when she struck a concrete barrier wall near South Patrick Drive, the Florida Highway Patrol reported. Merritt, who was wearing a helmet, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Merritt will be remembered during memorial services Tuesday. Visitation will begin at noon at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church at 3050 State Road A1A in Indialantic. Her memorial service starts about 1 p.m. at the church, followed by a 3 p.m. graveside service at Florida Memorial Gardens at 5950 U.S. 1 in Rockledge, Garcia said.
"My deepest condolences go out to the family of Officer Madison Merritt of the Indian Harbour Beach Police Department. While Madison will be greatly missed, she will always be remembered for her dedicated service to our community," Florida Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, tweeted Dec. 28.
Merritt graduated from Merritt Island High, and worked as a home caretaker for a Cape Canaveral resident from February 2017 through the summer of 2018. That's when she earned an associate's degree from Eastern Florida State College, her résumé shows.
In May 2020, Merritt earned a bachelor of arts in criminology from the University of South Florida. She enrolled in the EFSC Law Enforcement Academy two months later.
While attending college, she worked with the Rotaract Club on community projects such as fundraising for cancer hospitals and Halloween events, her résumé said. She also volunteered at Tropical Elementary School on Merritt Island.
Merritt applied for a job with the Indian Harbour Beach Police Department in November 2020. Garcia said she was initially hired as a community service officer. Police Chief David Butler publicly introduced and swore in Merritt as a full-time police officer during the Feb. 9 Indian Harbour Beach City Council meeting.
After undergoing a 16-week field-training phase, Merritt was assigned to a squad and worked road patrol during daytime and evening shifts, Garcia said.
The Indian Harbour Beach Police Department comprises 20 full-time police officers, one reserve police officer, eight civilian personnel and three crossing guards. They respond to more than 5,000 calls for service each year across the 2-square-mile beachside community of about 9,000 residents.
“It’s just a very, very sad situation for the whole department. And the community: Indian Harbour Beach and surrounding communities that got to know her. Just a very tragic loss," Garcia said.
"You know, as they say, we're not supposed to bury our children. And she was just so young and full of life, and just starting out her life and career in law enforcement, which she loved," he said. "And to be taken so soon like that, nobody can prepare for that."
In lieu of flowers, Merritt's family plans to establish a scholarship in her name for female recruits who enter the police academy, Indian Harbour Beach police announced Sunday afternoon on Facebook. Details will be released at a later date.
Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón tweeted his condolences Dec. 28.
"Prayers to Indian Harbour Beach Police Officer Madison Merritt’s family and the department. Her service to the community will not be forgotten," Rolón wrote.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Madison Merritt remembered as 'breath of fresh air' by Indian Harbour Beach police