Published July 10. 2013 4:00AM Updated July 10. 2013 3:58PM
Norwich - Police officers are out on the streets 24 hours a day risking their lives and solving crimes "as part of the normal course of their duties," Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro says.
But on Tuesday, as part of a periodically held award ceremony to recognize actions above and beyond the call of duty, numerous officers were given a brief moment in the spotlight.
It was at times an emotional ceremony at Kelly Middle School attended by a host of police, family, and city officials that culminated with a series of awards given to those involved a Jan. 7 incident that nearly claimed the life of Officer Jonathan Ley.
When a despondent man on Cedar Street with multiple guns called a suicide hotline to announce he planned to die by "suicide by cop," officers had responded in force, according to retired Capt. Timothy Menard, the master of ceremonies.
"It was a very difficult day," recalled Capt. Patrick Daley. "We're lucky we're all still here."
The man shot at officers through his door, demanding a clear path out. When police denied his demands he started firing a rifle out his window. Ley was struck multiple times.
It was in the seconds and minutes after Ley was hit that Daley said officers showed their true colors.
To a standing ovation, Officer Christopher Merrill was awarded the highest honor of the night for holding his ground, exhibiting exceptional courage, decisiveness and presence of mind, while risking his own life to return fire and allow fellow Officer Kyle Besse to pull Ley to safety.
Merrill, clearly surprised, was awarded the Medal of Valor. His only words about the incident after the ceremony were: "It was a bad night."
Besse was honored with the Medal of Bravery and Life Saving Award. Ley and Officer Harrison Formiglio also were awarded the Medal of Bravery.
Others, including several state troopers, were given a critical incident pin specially designed by the department's awards committee, a simple bar with the color red to depict the blood shed that day, blue to represent police and the date of the incident.
Other honors, given for incidents dating back to 2010, were given for work on murder cases, fire investigations and incidents where an officer was instrumental in saving a life.
Officer Avery Marsh was given a life saving Award for performing CPR on an unresponsive infant in 2010. Officer Stephanie Reichard received a Meritorious Service Award for talking down a suicidal man from a overpass above Interstate 395 in 2011. The entire detective division received Exceptional Service Awards for work during a seven-month span in 2010 that involved investigation of two murders, three shootings, three bank robberies and 10 burglaries among other crimes.
"They not only deserve our recognition, but they also deserve our sincere thanks," Fusaro said.
Sixteen officers who are veterans received medals from Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Linda Schwartz.