Buddy Ray Herron’s life and death should be a lesson about service to others, friends said Monday at his funeral service.
Authorities said the 42-year-old correctional officer stopped to help a motorist in need the night of Nov. 28 at a Highway 11 crash scene. Herron called 9-1-1 at 11:17 p.m. and said he had been stabbed. Pendleton police found Herron on the highway. He died of multiple stab wounds early Tuesday at St. Anthony Hospital, Pendleton. The Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office has charged Joshua Charles Weeks, 22, with Herron’s murder.
Herron had worked at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Pendleton, since December 2007. He also was a volunteer fire fighter in Helix, the small wheat-farming community north of Pendleton where he and his family lived. More than 700 packed the Vert Auditorium in Pendleton to mourn Herron’s death, most of them correctional officers, police, firefighters and paramedics from throughout the Northwest.
So many correctional officers from EOCI were on hand that Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla sent staff to fill in at EOCI, said EOCI Superintendent Rick Coursey.
Pastor Mac McCallum of the Helix Community Church recalled Herron as a dear friend and fellow fire-department volunteer. In the wake of Herron’s violent death, McCallum said, people have questioned whether helping others in need is worth the risk.
“Let Buddy’s life and death be a challenge to us to not be overcome with evil and fear,” he said.
Herron leaves behind a wife, Kimberly, and their four children — James, 20, Josh, 16, Jake, 13, and Jenna, 11. None of the family spoke at the service.
Helix Rural Fire Protection District Chief Matthew Benedict recalled Herron’s willingness to help with any task.
“Buddy represented it all: honor, courage, bravery and sacrifice,” Benedict said.
Richard McGraw, former EOCI assistant superintendent of security, now general services, brought a couple of lighter moments about Herron to the solemn ceremony.
He said Herron was an Arizona correctional officer for 12 years before taking the job at the medium-security state prison in Pendleton. It didn’t take long, he said, before he started hearing about the “new guy” and how Arizona prisons do things.
The recollection drew a few soft laughs from the somber crowd.
Herron, though, went on to earn a reputation of being tough but fair, McGraw said, and was worth getting to know. Their last conversation was a month ago Monday, McGraw said. Herron was on post during the night shift and showed an intricate spreadsheet he had created to keep track of inmate property.
“I kept thinking, ‘How could he be so wide awake at 2 a.m.?’” McGraw said. “Buddy was a hero to us all. He won’t be forgotten.”
Max Williams, director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, said Herron lived with a deep sense of duty toward helping others and treated even strangers as neighbors. Herron’s life should inspire others to be kinder, better people, he said.
Williams also told Herron’s children to let their father’s example “be a guiding star in their lives.”
Jeff Woods, a bishop with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pendleton, where Herron attended, encouraged others to not let Herron’s death keep them from helping those in need.
“I would plead with you, don’t diminish your service to others,” Woods said.
The U.S. flag covered Herron’s casket, Nearby stood his firefighter’s coat and helmet. An Oregon Fire Service Honor Guard conducted a bell-ringing ritual to signify Herron’s duty was at an end and he was returning to safe quarters. Members of the Oregon Interagency Honor Guard fired a 21-gun salute outside the auditorium. Another Oregon Interagency Honor Guard retrieved the colors.
Department of Corrections Honor Guard members presented Kimberly Herron with the colors. She also received her husband’s firefighter helmet, a fireman’s whistle and another flag.
Honor guard members escorted Kimberly Herron and the youngest children down the long aisle and out of the auditorium at 480 S.W. Dorion Ave. A 10-block procession of police, emergency and firefighting vehicles followed the casket from Pendleton along Highway 11. Only the family and closest friends, though, continued to the graveside service.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber ordered flags to fly at half-staff Monday in Herron’s honor. And the Oregon Public Safety Memorial Fund Board voted Friday to award Herron’s widow survivor benefits, which includes a $25,000 lump sum payment and possible other benefits for Herron’s four children. Director Eriks Gabliks also said the board has contacted the U.S. Department of Justice for additional survivor benefits for Herron’s family.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.