by Pat Brown
A funeral that required a coliseum to hold it was nevertheless personal and touching as family, friends, and fellow officers paid respect Monday to fallen hero Deriek Wayne Crouse, 39.
The most personal words came from Sgt. Danny Sweeney, who served with Crouse in the army, and Sgt. Tom Gallemore, who worked with him at the Virginia Tech Police Department.
Crouse’s life ended Thursday when he was shot during a routine traffic stop on Tech’s campus. Police have said the shooter, Ross Truett Ashley, 22, took his own life minutes later. While the investigation continues, police say they believe the incident is a random act of violence.
By the time Crouse’s funeral began on Monday afternoon, seats on the west side of the Cassell Coliseum were filled with the black and navy uniforms of police from all over the East Coast. Tech’s Corps of Cadets were present, occupying seats in the coliseum’s rounded corner.
Members of the public nearly filled the east side of the coliseum.
All those present could easily see that down below, a bank of funeral sprays flanked a casket draped in an American Flag.
When the Virginia State Police Pipes and Drums began playing, the crowd went silent. Even with thousands of people in attendance, the coliseum was noiseless as people waited respectfully for hundreds of honored guests, additional law enforcement members, close friends, and family to take their seats on the first level of the coliseum.
On the front row were Lisa Crouse and her five boys: Dustin Crouse, Logan and Hayden Schack, Tyler and Peyton Robinette. Nearby were Deriek Crouse’s parents, Tony Crouse and Bonita Akers.
“None of us wanted to be here,” Rev. Thomas McDearis said. He is chaplain to the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg Police Departments.
“Our hearts were gripped by sadness. Such acts of violence can never be explained,” said Gov. Bob McDonald. He said he spoke his condolences on behalf of the eight million citizens of Virginia and had given Tina Crouse the flag that flew at half-mast on the Capitol.
“From the sands of Iraq to the rolling hills of Blacksburg, Deriek Crouse was a public servant and a warrior,” McDonald said. “His bravery will not go forgotten.”
McDonald praised the Tech community for gathering an estimated 10,000 people for a candlelight vigil Friday night. He also praised their resilience for persevering through exams and starting a scholarship fund that has already garnered $80,000.
Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum thanked Tina Crouse and her five sons for their sacrifice. “Our families make sacrifices right along with us,” Flinchum said, referring to the demands of law enforcement. “Deriek understood sacrifice.”
Sgt. Danny Sweeney’s emotions made it hard for him to speak when he first began his eulogy.
He said Crouse, with whom he served in Iraq in the army’s 424th Transportation Company, had a talent for lifting the spirits of those around him. “If you knew Deriek for 10 minutes, he would put a smile on your face,” he said. Crouse, a tanker and truck driver in Iraq, “took great pride in what he was doing.”
“He would rather we celebrated his life than mourn his passing,” Sweeney said.
He had words of comfort for Crouse’s closest relatives. “I don’t think they (his sons) would have changed a thing about Deriek,” said Sweeney. “His parents can hold their heads high. Tina, you and your family will always be part of the 424.”
“In true Deriek style I waited until the morning to write this,” said Sgt. Tom Gallemore as he began his eulogy. The crowd murmured a quiet laugh. He told of his friend’s adoration for Pittsburgh sports teams. “He would jump up and down and scream,” Gallemore said.
“Deriek would not like all this attention,” he said. Gallemore wept as he spoke about missing Deriek. “I turn around at my desk and look at where he always stood.”
“He always thought about others,” Gallemore said, recalling how Crouse made a point to ask a Tech worker about his son who is in the service. He told how Crouse counseled a weeping student he noticed on campus one day. “He told her that he had learned that just because you have trouble with your family doesn’t mean they don’t love you.”
“Somehow we will get through this,” Gallemore said, addressing Crouse’s family.
“The most important stories were about how much he loved you, Tina,” Chaplain McDearis said. “Some were funny and some were touching.” He told Crouse’s family, “You will never be separated from the love he had for you.”
McDearis said Crouse’s life illustrates “that it truly is not the length of a life that gives it meaning.”
Occasionally during the long ceremony Tina Crouse ’s shoulders quaked from her sobs. She comforted Dustin Crouse and her smaller children who were nearest to her.
When the family left the building eight color guards from colleges and police departments up and down the East Coast flanked their path in a symbolic show of protection and comfort.
A large funeral entourage proceeded to graveside services at Memorial Gardens in Blacksburg.