Law enforcement, family members gather to honor life of Chandler Officer Jeremy Wilkins

·3 min read
Jeremy Wilkins.
Jeremy Wilkins.

Those who gathered to honor the life of fallen Chandler Police Department Officer Jeremy Wilkins on Tuesday remembered him as a "gentle giant," a man deeply devoted to his family and the community he served.

Wilkins died of COVID-19 on Dec. 17. A procession and private viewing for Wilkins' family was held on Monday at the Chandler Police Public Safety Training Center

Pastor Justin Brewer, who has been the Wilkins family's pastor for several years in their home church in Flagstaff, began the service with a prayer thanking God for Wilkins' life and service. Brewer, reading the obituary, said Wilkins had a "heart of gold and a laugh that was contagious."

"Everyone who knew him knew that family meant everything to him — he loved them fiercely," he said.

Chandler Police Department Chief Sean Duggan said it was a difficult year for the department as it said goodbye to three of its officers for various reasons, but the presence and support from the public have been "very comforting."

Duggan called Wilkins the "epitome of a community policing officer" who "exuded empathy and compassion."

"Please know that your pain is our pain. We are suffering alongside you," Duggan said to Wilkins' family.

Wilkins began his law enforcement career in Michigan 23 years ago. He moved to Arizona in the late 2000s and started with the Chandler Police Department in 2012.

Duggan said Wilkins was a Crisis Intervention Team-trained officer who offered a calming presence to community members in distress.

When his friend and colleague, Officer Christopher Farrar, was killed during a chase in April, Wilkins insisted on being the one to notify Farrar's family. He continued supporting them in the days, weeks and months after Farrar's death "even though he was in pain and he was suffering himself," Duggan said.

"He was aware of the inherent dangers of our profession, yet he was drawn to it," Duggan said. "Besides the obvious dangers, he also knew there were opportunities. Opportunities every single day to make a difference — and that's what he did."

Morgan Ackels, Wilkins' daughter, remarked that some of the law enforcement officers gathered on Tuesday might recognize her because of how often she went on ride-alongs with him.

"Dad always said I was one of the guys because I never left his side," she said.

Ackels said her father encouraged each of his children to pursue what they were passionate about and was their biggest supporter.

"He always told us he loved us no matter what happened," she said. "He always told me I was a handful, but I loved fiercely, and I know I got that from him."

Brandon Wilkins, Wilkins' oldest son, remembered his father "doing his best to be strong" after Farrar's death.

"I knew he was hurting, but he was being himself — saving face for everybody around him," he said.

He went on to recite poetry honoring the sacrifices of law enforcement and said he was grateful for the lasting impact his father had on all who knew him.

"You will always be the biggest part of my life, Dad," he said.

Chandler Police Department Officer Tyler Britt died of COVID-19 in January. COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death for American law enforcement officers, according to the nonprofit Officer Down Memorial Page.

Reach the reporter at bfrank@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8529. Follow her on Twitter @brieannafrank.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Mourners gather to honor life of Chandler Officer Jeremy Wilkins

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