BARDSTOWN — On the seventh anniversary of taking the oath as a Bardstown police officer, Jason Ellis was laid to rest Thursday after a funeral service that drew law enforcement officers from surrounding states.
Police from Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio and all over Kentucky were among those who attended the funeral at Parkway Baptist Church, just off Blue Grass Parkway in Bardstown.
Hundreds of police cruisers and other emergency vehicles made the 20-mile procession to the rural cemetery in Chaplin where Ellis was buried. The route was lined with American flags flapping in the breeze.
Ellis, 33, was killed Saturday in what police called an ambush at an exit off the parkway. He was a K-9 officer for the Bardstown department, but his dog was not with him when he was shot.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
He had stopped to remove some debris in the road when he was shot multiple times with a shotgun by an unknown assailant.
Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin said Ellis "paid the ultimate sacrifice doing what he loved: being a police officer."
His slaying has spurred an outpouring of grief in the town of about 12,000, about 40 miles southeast of Louisville.
As the funeral began, authorities continued a nonstop investigation of Ellis' slaying. Some investigators were so busy checking possible leads that they couldn't attend the funeral, McCubbin said.
"It's going to be a very emotional day," McCubbin said at a news conference at the church before the funeral began.
At the funeral, Ellis was remembered as a family man, a dear friend and a hero.
The church sanctuary seats more than 1,000, and every seat was taken. Officers stood along the side walls or were seated in a fellowship hall that seats 500.
Among the dignitaries attending the funeral were state Attorney General Jack Conway and state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.
An honor guard stood on both sides of the closed, flag-draped casket.
Ellis was a native of the Cincinnati area, but "you wouldn't know he wasn't from here," McCubbin said. "He was a perfect fit for this community."
McCubbin recalled how Ellis would say, in a kind of cheerleading whisper, "You're my chief! You're my chief!"
"I am your chief, Jason, but you're our hero and you need to know this chief will not stand down," McCubbin said. "Jason, my friend, rest easy. We've got it from here."
Brandon Young said Ellis, his brother-in-law, was a family man. Ellis and his wife, Amy, had two sons: Hunter, 7, and Parker, 6.
Young said Ellis also knew how to be a friend. "He took the time to listen to whatever you had to say," Young said.
As a K-9 officer searching for drugs, Ellis "played a pivotal role in cleaning up the streets of this community," Young said.
Many K-9 officers attended the funeral, and their dogs could be heard barking from their cruisers before the funeral.
"It's our duty to come pay our respects," said Darrell Jones, a K-9 officer with the Lexington police.
Versailles police Lt. Daniel Clark said the turnout of officers was "amazing."
"I went up to one officer and said, 'Where's Greencastle?' That officer drove 600 miles to be here today. He's out of Pennsylvania," Clark said. "That shows the dedication of the officers to each other, that you would have somebody come that far."
Rows and rows of police cruisers pulled out of the church Thursday.
The procession that wound through town after the funeral included an estimated 800 emergency vehicles, flashing their headlights and their red and blue emergency lights. The vehicles passed under a giant American flag held aloft by two ladder fire trucks and drove past the Nelson County Justice Center.
The vehicles also passed by a homemade sign that said, "Pray for Justice."
It took about an hour and 15 minutes for all the police cars, motorcycles and fire trucks in the funeral procession to pass the giant flag in front of the Bardstown police department.
People — a mixture of residents and visitors who wanted to honor a fallen officer — stood at attention along the procession route, some with their hands over their hearts.
Jennifer Unseld of Bardstown said it was important for her to stand in the hot sun with her husband, Alan, and 14-year-old daughter, Allison, to pay her respects.
"He was part of the community and he protected us," Unseld said.
Joyce Kirsch and her husband, Mike, took the loss especially hard. She had sewn blue horizontal patches of material to their shirts to represent "the thin blue line," the symbol that characterizes police as the thin line against crime and evil.
"I've got a brother, three nephews and a cousin who are all police officers," Joyce Kirsch said. "Four of them are here in Nelson County. Two are on the sheriff's department and two are on the city police.
"I'm good friends with a bunch of the police officers here. It hurts me so bad that somebody can go out here and do this, take somebody's life."
Ellis' death "has left a big hole" in the community, Joyce Kirsch said.
An hour before the funeral began in Bardstown, officers, residents and others began to gather at High View Cemetery in Chaplin.
Bagpipers worked out last-minute kinks, rehearsing chords that could be heard as people grouped under trees to escape the heat. Several people clutched small American flags.
Harold Coulter and his wife arrived at the cemetery about 11 a.m.
"We just wanted to show support for police officers," Coulter said. "We wanted to show respect."
Coulter was not surprised to see the turnout.
"It's a close-knit community anyway," he said. "Anything like this makes it more so."
Roger Burns, a Chaplin native, gathered with his family in the shade of a shelter about 300 yards from where the ceremony would take place.
"He was a good man," Roger Burns said. "It's a shame that things went down the way they did."
Two of Burns' granddaughters, Emily Burns, 9, and Scarlett Burns, 10, sat and chatted quietly with binoculars and flags.
Emily said she was glad she had the opportunity to pay respect to "Mr. Ellis."
At the graveside services, at least four people collapsed because of the heat, requiring treatment from emergency medical technicians on the scene. Water was distributed to mourners.
Hundreds of officers snapped to attention when the honor guard was called; the 60 or so police dogs at the ceremony barked with the sound of the guards' 21-gun salute.
The ceremony ended at 6, after family and fellow officers placed their roses on the casket and the bagpipes' rendition of Amazing Grace faded.
A reward fund in the case has surpassed $100,000, including a $50,000 donation from Louisville businessman Gus Goldsmith.
According to the Bardstown Police Department's Facebook page, here's how to donate to either the officer's family or the reward fund set up through the family and the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 43:
Make checks payable to Officer Jason Ellis Memorial Fund or the Officer Jason Ellis Reward Fund. Specify which fund.
Checks can be sent in each fund's name to Chief Rick McCubbin, Bardstown Police Department, 212 Nelson County Plaza, Bardstown, Ky., 40004. Donations also can be made at any Muir Bank branch in Bardstown.