Fallen first responders honored at Project Blue Light ceremony

This year marks 20th anniversary of Hazel Park officer who died in line of duty

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published December 7, 2022

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HAZEL PARK — When police officers and firefighters go to work, they don’t know if they will return safely at the end of their shift. The Project Blue Light ceremony held in Hazel Park each year is a solemn reminder of this, paying tribute to those who gave their lives serving others.

Scheduled to be held Dec. 6, after press time, this year’s ceremony took place at St. Justin’s Church, and was expected to be attended by current and retired first responders, their families and friends. It was the 19th annual commemoration.

Community members can also show their support at home by placing a blue light in their front window for police officers and a red light for firefighters. First responders see these lights as a sign of appreciation during the cold winter nights.

In an email prior to the event, event organizer Debbie Swofford said 13 men and women were among the fallen to be honored.

“From felonious and vehicular incidents to physical trauma and illness brought about by the work they do day in and day out, these heroes died as a result of keeping their promise to the communities they serve,” Swofford said.

The 2022 “Roll Call of Heroes” dates back to the summer of 2021 and included:

• Cpl. Kahlil J. Biddle, Detroit Police Department, died Aug. 17, 2021.

• Sgt. Todd L. Leveille, Michigan State Police, died Dec. 9, 2021.

• Deputy James Lear, Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office, died Dec. 10, 2021.

• Sgt. Raymond D. Hughes, Detroit Police Department, died Dec. 17, 2021.

• Cpl. John J. Wojciechowski, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, died Dec. 21, 2021.

• Officer Brian Vogel, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs & Border Protection, Office of Field Operations, died Dec. 30, 2021.

• Cpl. Ernest M Robinson, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, died Jan. 18, 2022.

• Capt. Collin B. Birnie, Flint Police Department, died Feb. 4, 2022.

• Officer Freddie L. Wilson, Detroit Public Schools Police Department, died March 10, 2022.

• David W. McDonald, Grand Traverse Band Fire Rescue, died March 17, 2022.

• Officer Loren Courts, Detroit Police Department, died July 6, 2022.

• Mounted Deputy Nichole M. Shuff, Clare County Sheriff’s Office, died July 29, 2022.

• Officer Lloyd M. Todd, Detroit Police Department, died Sept. 12, 2022. 

For the city of Hazel Park, this year’s ceremony carried extra weight, since 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of officer Jessica Nagle-Wilson of the Hazel Park Police Department.

Nagle-Wilson was killed on July 28, 2002, while responding to an animal complaint in the 900 block of East Jarvis Avenue. The incident occurred around 9 p.m. that night. Nagle-Wilson called for help on her police radio, and responding officers found her lying unresponsive on the sidewalk with a gunshot wound to her neck. Her attacker was also found lying on the ground nearby, with a gunshot wound to the stomach. He survived and was treated, and was sentenced to life in prison.

The animal complaint alleged that the man wouldn’t leash his dog. Nagle-Wilson didn’t know that simply asking the man to comply would lead to a violent confrontation with a suspect armed with a 12-gauge shotgun. She was only 26 years old at the time of her death, having served just under two years as a patrol officer with the Hazel Park Police Department. She was also a newlywed who had married another police officer, Matthew Wilson with the Detroit Police Department.

Hazel Park Police Chief Brian Buchholz said the incident underscores the perils of police work. He said the department fondly remembers Nagle-Wilson.

“She was very compassionate for a police officer. She had an empathetic approach to policing and was very caring,” Buchholz said in an email. “Jessica was always smiling, and really loved being the police. She had a soft spot for animals, and voluntarily would take those calls for service.”  

Swofford said that Project Blue Light puts the sacrifices of first responders into perspective.

“Just as these 13 men and women have done, we too must now do our part to keep our promise to them — and to their families, friends and coworkers — that we will ’never forget,’” Swofford said. “With every line-of-duty death, these words are spoken. We need to do our part to make sure that they are not merely words, but an oath we spend the remainder of our days fulfilling.”

She said that placing a blue light and red light in front of your home goes a long way toward boosting morale.

“(The blue and red lights) show that we honor the fallen, remember the survivors, and support those still serving,” Swofford said. “It’s such a simple act, with a very strong message.”