West Chester >> A somber ceremony in the Chester County Sheriff’s Office underscored a concept of interconnectedness popularized in the John Guare play entitled “Six Degrees of Separation.”
In Chester County’s five-way version, the ties stemmed from a tragedy that occurred on Friday, June 29, 2011, in Berks County. On that day, Berks County Sheriff’s Deputy Sheriff Kyle Pagerly, then 28 years old, accompanied by his K-9 partner, Jynx, was participating in a U.S. Marshal’s Office Task Force. One of its missions: apprehending a fugitive who had no intention of being caught.
Matthew Connor, 25, was wearing a ghillie suit — camouflage gear embellished with foliage and twigs — and hiding in the woods with an AK-47 when members of the multi-agency team approached him. Connor might have remained undetected longer if Jynx hadn’t been present. The dog alerted Pagerly and the others to Connor’s presence and then tried to pull his partner to safety after Pagerly was fatally shot in the chest. The bullets ricocheted literally as well as figuratively, accentuating strong bonds between the Berks County Sheriff’s Office and the Chester County Sheriff’s Office.
Chester County Sgt. Paul Bryant, who worked for more than three decades for the Philadelphia Police Department as a K-9 handler and instructor, had trained Pagerly and Jynx. “I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Bryant said after last week’s memorial. “That was one of the worst days I ever had in law enforcement.”
Deputy Matt “Jamie” Mendenhall, who previously worked in the Berks County Sheriff’s Office, served as Pagerly’s K-9 supervisor there. He also served on the honor guard, the swat team and the U.S. Marshal’s task force with Pagerly. Until joining the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, Mendenhall had never worked as a K-9 handler. Now, he is paired with Nero, a regal, bomb-sniffing German shepherd. Mendenhall, who organized the Pagerly tribute, said he felt some comfort in the knowledge that Pagerly would have applauded his new position, enabling Mendenhall to come “full circle.”
Another former Berks County colleague who attended Friday’s program was Deputy Keith Neiswender, who joined the Chester County Sheriff’s Office this past spring. Neiswender, who wore a shirt honoring Pagerly, was hired in Berks County as a deputy the same time as Pagerly — timing that led to a fast friendship and shared triathlons. Neiswender, who served on the protection-from-abuse unit and honor guard with Pagerly, said the globe-trotting shirt goes with him on vacations, most recently to Thailand. He organizes an annual 5-K fun run for Pagerly’s family; for more information, visit https://www.pretzelcitysports.com/onlineform1.php?id=1157.
Lt. Harry McKinney was unable to attend the ceremony but sent his regrets. McKinney, who heads the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit, said he and Pagerly participated in several multi-county K-9 details.
A more complicated connection existed with Chester County Chief Deputy Jason Suydam, who was working the same day with a different U.S. Marshal’s team that included Sgt. Adam Kosheba, a state trooper involved in issuing Connor’s warrant. Kosheba left the detail with Suydam after getting an alert that investigators were closing in on Connor. A short time later, he ended up firing the shot that killed Connor.
Friday’s evocative tribute, which included remarks by Mendenhall, Chester County Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh and Suydam, was attended by Kyle’s mother, Michelle Moyer, and his stepfather, Paul Moyer. The presentation included two videos: one that focused on Pagerly’s life, and one that detailed the ambush.
An accomplished triathlete, Pagerly served three years of active duty in the U.S. Army, stationed in Kosovo and then Iraq. He started a bike patrol at the Western Berks Regional Police Department, where he worked part time and he served as a volunteer firefighter for the Spring Township Fire Department. Right before he was killed at the age of 28, he and his wife had been celebrating the news that she was 10 weeks pregnant.
At the conclusion of the tribute, several members of the office dabbed at their eyes. Later, many said the remembrances provided a stark reminder of the dangers that deputies face daily.
“Each and every day deputy sheriffs, police officers and all law-enforcement face peril -- whether serving a warrant, a protection-from-abuse order or a car stop -- the danger is always in the unknown,” said Welsh. “Today’s tribute to Deputy Pagerly was poignant and deeply felt not only by the deputies who knew him but also by all his brothers and sisters who serve and protect.”
Welsh said the presence of Pagerly’s mother made the program even more meaningful. “It was a true honor to have Kyle’s mother here with us,” Welsh added. “She shows great courage and grace through her unimaginable loss and her unspeakable pain.”
Michelle Moyer said she was a nervous wreck during her son’s stints in Iraq and Kosovo. Once he was back on U.S. soil, she stopped worrying quite so much. Now, her greatest fear is that he will be forgotten, a concern that members of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office worked to dispel.
“I felt so welcomed today,” Michelle Moyer said. “It really did make a horrible day a little brighter.”
She keeps a special photo of Jynx, who is nearly 11 and still residing with her son’s family, in her phone. It was taken the first time the family brought Jynx to the memorial wall that contains her son’s ashes. “Jynx immediately went right to Kyle’s name,” she said. “That was not staged in any way. He just knew.”