Eagle River man’s son among Dallas officers slain at protest

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - 14:06
Ahrens hopes newfound appreciation for law enforcement endures
  • Portraits of the five fallen police officers are seen at rear as a memorial gets underway at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on Tuesday. From left to right, they are Officer Michael Krol, Officer Brent Thompson, Officer Lorne Ahrens, Officer Michael J. Smith and Officer Patrick Zamarripa.Photo by Eric Gay of the AP
  • William Ahrens of Eagle River shows a photo of his son, Dallas Police Department Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, who was among five officers shot and killed in the July 7 sniper attack on police working a Black Lives Matter demonstration.Photo by Amy Armstrong for the Star

A parent does not bury a child in the natural order of life.

Yet, for one Eagle River father, that order was reversed on July 7 as his son was one of five Dallas police officers shot and killed while on duty monitoring the activity of a Black Lives Matter protest march against the death of two African-American men — one in Louisiana; the other in Minnesota — at the hands of police officers.

The event has polarized and shocked the nation.

It also hits far too close to the local community as the father and stepmother of one of the slain Dallas officers begin to mourn the loss of a son they re-connected with just more than a decade ago.

Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, age 48, died at a Dallas area hospital after surviving a surgery. However, wounds to his liver from bullets that penetrated it in the sniper attack at the end of the otherwise peaceful demonstration caused something to go wrong post-surgery and Ahrens died, according to a report by the Washington Post.

His father, William Ahrens, and stepmother, Sue Ahrens, have lived in Eagle River since 1983. Tuesday morning they flew to Dallas for Lorne’s visitation and funeral on Wednesday.

“Being a police officer was all he ever wanted to do,” Williams said in a telephone interview at the family home on Tuesday. “It was in his DNA.”

William has had little time to begin processing the death of his son. Representatives of media from around the nation and the world have called or emailed or Skyped with he and or Sue nearly non-stop since Friday after the names of the fallen officers were made public.

As he looked at pictures of his son in uniform, the anguish that crossed his face and lingered in his eyes surrounded him with little comfort to quell the pain.

The “why” questions were already answered via announcements by Dallas Police Chief David Brown that Micah Johnson, the sniper killed by C-4 explosives delivered via police robot, planned the attack in retaliation to the death of other African-American men.

Brown told national television that Johnson wanted to kill white police officers. According to reports from Dallas-based newspapers, Johnson told police during a failed two-hour negotiation that he hoped to kill more officers.

For William, the idea that his son — a formidable presence at 6-foot-5- inches and 300 pounds — was killed protecting others during a protest against his very profession is something he may understand, but doesn’t like.

What he does readily accept is that his son was running toward the gunfire when the first bullet hit him. William spoke with a paternal pride as he explained that Lorne had already warned at least one civilian to take cover as he was headed toward the danger with intent to stop the threat.

“He died doing what he loved,” William said.

That sentence has become an all-too-readily repeated mantra as he answers the same questions about his son to representatives from media outlets.

But there is much more William wants the world to know about his son.

His wife, Katrina Ahrens, a DPD detective assigned to the Crimes Against Persons division, and their two children, a 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, were his life.

Lorne regularly volunteered at their elementary school in uniform in an effort to not only be involved in his children’s schooling, but to also teach children how to have a positive relationship with law enforcement.

He was a big guy, to be sure, but never missed an opportunity to sit down for a tea party with his daughter or roll on the floor in a wrestling match with his kids.

He regularly lay down with his children at bedtime patiently waiting as a human comfort object at their sides until they fell sound asleep.

“On one hand he was fearless,” William noted. “But for all of his ardor for the job, for all of his ferociousness on the job, he was always also on the other end of the spectrum being sweet and loving with his children.”

Lorne patrolled some of the most challenging neighborhoods in Dallas, William said.

Stories of Lorne’s job experiences have surfaced through a variety of media outlets: He brought dinner to the homeless on his beat, but he also wasted no time in pursuing criminals.

He had the build of a football lineman — and actually played semiprofessional ball for a while — but that didn’t stop him from success in sprint chase pursuing and tackling a suspected cocaine dealer who’d dropped a .38 caliber pistol and left an SKS rifle in the house he fled from.

As Lorne’s father, William was allowed to accompany his son on “ride-alongs” when he visited. William saw first-hand why his son loved working these neighborhoods where illegal drug activity was rampant, crimes of all kinds occurred around the clock and people were barbecuing and making noise even at 3:30 in the morning.

William even noted that the neighborhoods his son patrolled had a “unique uncomfortable smell” to them. They were dangerous places in which the law-abiding and generally poor people struggled to survive.

“Lorne thought he was making the world — those neighborhoods — a better place for honest people,” William said.

Lorne joined the DPD in January 2002 after working as a dispatcher with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and in the prison at Lancaster, Calif.

He wanted to be a police officer and Dallas was hiring.

His strong, aggressive temperament matched the job requirements in Dallas to a tee, his father told The Star.

Even though police pay in Dallas is relatively low, William said, the department’s retirement plan is terrific. Lorne was five years from earning his retirement, William said. Lorne’s wife, Katrina, also intended to earn her retirement and the couple would be financially set for the next phase of their lives together.

That dream is by the wayside now.

William said his son talked to him about the increasing racial divide in America – including the conflict between police and the black community that seems to dominate the national news recently.

William said his son wanted to be part of the solution, but also talked openly about the racial division that exists within the DPD.

“Lorne had friends from every race. He was friends with black cops, he was friends with white cops, he was friends with Hispanic cops,” William said. “But from the conversations I had with him, I can tell you there is division within the Dallas Police Department. There fundamentally are defining lines between those three races with the department. Yet, my son made friendships and pursued friendships in spite of all of that.”

William is not a fan of the Black Lives Matter movement, the group organizing the Dallas protest in which Lorne was killed.

He said he agrees with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who last weekend said the movement is racist.

“What I am angry at is that I hate the black politics that stir up anger in the black community to the point where they can allow themselves to rationalize their unwillingness to take advantage of the opportunities available in the United States to better themselves. All people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson do is stir up anger. I think African-Americans that listen to them are actually victims because it only leads to violence,” he said.

William is happy to see a renewed appreciation for law enforcement.

“It seems this event in Dallas did wake people up,” he said. “Unfortunately, it took something like this for the community to see the value of police officers and their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way.

“My son was reported running toward the gun fire and reported having told someone else to get under cover. They were all running to the gunfire.”

He hopes the tone of appreciation and respect for law enforcement lingers long past the events of last week and this week. But he doesn’t hold out a great deal of hope for that to be reality.

“I think it go either way,” he said. “I think it is temporary. I fear it is going to revert back to what it was. It might just blow over and unfortunately all of these sacrifices that have been made will only a short term benefit. I hope that is not true, but I suspect that is going to be the case.”

For now, he gathers his memories — ones he almost missed out on.

He and Lorne’s mother divorced when their son was five years old. William remained in southern California for the next three years but moved to Alaska for job opportunities and to get away from the increasing crowdedness of SoCal.

Lorne didn’t come with him.

The relationship was strained by distance. William knew only bits and pieces of his son’s life until Lorne was in his mid-30s and the two re-connected.

Lorne visited William and Sue in Alaska a few times, his father said.

“He liked it,” William said. “And the mosquitoes liked him. He was a big target.”

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