CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- More than six years after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Sean Clark was shot to death in the line of duty, he was honored Sunday with the dedication of a memorial garden in Huntersville.
The new garden and park, located on nearly a quarter-acre in Blythe Landing, features walking paths, a wooden eagle and a granite plaque dedicated to Clark, who was killed with his partner, Jeff Shelton.
In later phases of the park, Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation hopes to install a cedar swing, a cabin playhouse and a bronze statue of deer to honor Clark’s love of hunting, said Peter Cook, park operations superintendent for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.
“This has been a long time coming, Clark’s widow Sherry Lancaster said after the ceremony at Blythe Landing. “I couldn’t be happier with what Parks and Recreation did.”
Charlotte Mecklenburg police officers Clark, 34, and Shelton, 35, were fatally shot March 31, 2007, after they had responded to an unrelated domestic call at the Timber Ridge Apartments in east Charlotte. Clark’s wife was expecting a child around the time of his death.
Demeatrius Montgomery was found guilty Sept. 30 of two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without parole.
“A hero’s price is high, and it was paid in full that night,” CMPD Major Jeff Estes said during Sunday’s ceremony.
“The Ace & TJ Show" on radio station WNKS-FM (95.1) in Charlotte has led an effort since 2007 to build memorial parks honoring Clark and Shelton in the communities where they lived. The station raised about $40,000 toward building the parks; they were built with all-volunteer labor.
A park named in honor of Shelton opened in Locust in October 2007.
Sean Clark lived with his family in Iron Station in eastern Lincoln County but the station turned to Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation to locate the memorial gardens and park in Blythe Landing, off N.C. 73.
On Sunday, Lancaster spoke to a group of more than 100 people – many of whom were officers – during the dedication ceremony. Her sons, ages 5 and 9, sat in the audience.
“He’d be so happy that the boys have a place to come and play. It was very important to me that they knew that their daddy is remembered and loved and never forgotten,” she said after the ceremony.
Estes said Sunday’s dedication was “bittersweet.”
“It brings back memories, memories that are sad and heart-wrenching,” he said.
But the dedication also brought “hope,” because it means that Clark will continue to be remembered, Estes said.
“As time goes on, society as a whole forgets,” he said, encouraging families to enjoy the new garden but “Don’t overlook the name of the park.”
After the ceremony, more than 100 officers and their families walked through the garden, many pausing to read the plaque dedicated to Clark, which described him as an “avid deer hunter and outdoors man” who “loved to ride ATV’s and go camping” and had a “beaming smile and infectious laugh.”
“Sean gave his life doing what he loved to do – protect and serve. However, he will not be remembered for how he died but by the way that he lived life everyday,” the plaque reads in part.
While walking through the park with his family, CMPD officer Brad Dunn with the North Tryon Division remembered his time working with Clark and Shelton on the third shift.
He remembered how Clark always talked about riding four-wheelers with his son and how Clark “always had a smile on his face that you could see from 1,000 yards.”
Dunn said that for Clark’s loved ones, Sunday’s dedication “means the world because we finally have a place where we can celebrate his life.”