AUGUSTA — If June 6, 2017, had happened differently, this week would have been a special one for Nathan M. Desjardins: he would have graduated from the University of New England on Saturday, his name freshly printed onto a nursing degree.

Instead, Desjardins’ name now appears alongside those of 84 other people on a granite wall near the State House.

That wall is a memorial to Maine’s law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of work. On Thursday morning, about 200 officers and game wardens from around Maine, along with their supporters, came to an annual ceremony to honor the fallen.

This week’s ceremony was made particularly poignant by the deaths of two officers in the last year.

The newest name on the wall belongs to Desjardins, who worked as a part-time officer for the Fryeburg Police Department and died last June at the age of 20. Authorities were attempting to rescue a woman, whose canoe had capsized in the Saco River, when Desjardins was thrown from a motorized jet boat and suffered a severe head injury.

During the ceremony on Thursday, there was also a prominent display for Cpl. Eugene Cole, the Somerset County sheriff’s officer who was shot and killed while on patrol in Norridgewock on April 25, and whose death was so recent that his name will not be added to the memorial until next year.

Relatives of both men attended the ceremony, which was held on a closed off section of State Street and included a booming, 21-gun salute by seven members of the Maine State Police.

“We’re very honored to be here,” said Nicole Desjardins, the mother of Nathan Desjardins, after the ceremony ended. “It’s very emotional. ”

She came to the ceremony with her husband, Brian Desjardins, who wore a blue wrist band honoring their son. The couple had come from their home in Albion, and they answered reporters’ questions while standing near the spot on the wall where Nathan Desjardins’ name has been etched.

Just as the death of their son was tragic, so were the headlines last month. Cole was the first Maine police officer to be fatally shot in nearly 30 years.

“It’s not something you want to hear,” Brian Desjardins said. “You don’t want a loved one who’s not going to come back to you. It was hard to hear about Cpl. Cole, and it just tells us that there’s more of this that’s going to happen in the future. It’s not done.”

The Desjardins remembered their son as a kind, loving young man who wanted to make a difference. In addition to his police work, he also worked as a volunteer fire fighter in Albion and hoped to become a nurse practitioner.

“We can honor his legacy by being kind and good to others every day, whether it’s a smile or a hug or a prayer,” said his mother.

At one point, Nicole grabbed one of the red carnations that were being handed out and pressed it against her son’s name on the stone wall.

Several state and local officials spoke at the ceremony on Thursday, which was organized by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and held during National Police Week, a remembrance created in 1962 on the proclamation of then-President John F. Kennedy.

Among the speakers was Gov. Paul LePage, who acknowledged the losses suffered by families like the Coles and Desjardins and thanked law enforcement officials for taking a risk when they leave the house each day to keep “society free and peaceful.”

Their “services and sacrifice will never be forgotten,” LePage said. “We owe you a special thanks every day.”

Before the ceremony, a large group of current and future officers marched in uniform from Union Street to the spot on State Street where the ceremony was held. They were led by a band playing drums and bagpipes, and joined by 65 officers who will graduate from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro on Friday.

Also attending the ceremony were past and present officers who arrived on bicycle and motorcycle from different parts of the state.

During LePage’s remarks, he echoed the words of Sean Geagan, chief of the Bucksport Police Department and president of the Maine Chiefs of Police association, who spoke earlier in the ceremony.

“We owe these officers much respect and gratitude,” Geagan said. Their deaths “remind us that law enforcement is not just another job, but a higher calling.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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