DELBARTON, W.Va. (AP) — Slain southern West Virginia Sheriff Eugene Crum was remembered Sunday for his warmth, kindness and dedication to tackling Mingo County’s pervasive drug problems.
Hundreds of mourners, including nearly 400 law enforcement officers from several states, packed Mingo Central High School for Crum’s funeral.
The 59-year-old sheriff was shot to death Wednesday, a little more than three months after taking office.
“We ask all the time where have all the heroes gone?” Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury said during his eulogy. “Let me tell you, sometimes we walk in their midst and we don’t know we got them. He was mine.”
Although county Prosecutor Michael Sparks has said there’s no substantial evidence that Crum’s death was drug-related, Thornsbury said Crum had received threats due to his job.
“He was aware he was being persecuted by some, but the saving grace was that he knew he was loved by many.”
The last conversation Thornsbury had with Crum included those job risks and occurred just a few minutes before his death.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘I’m going to fight the good fight,’” Thornsbury said.
And with that, Crum left for lunch.
He was shot as he ate in a downtown Williamson parking lot.
Police charged 37-year-old Tennis Melvin Maynard with murder and the motive is still unclear.
Thornsbury recalled the day he went looking for Crum more than a decade ago when the judge needed to find a chief magistrate. He tracked down Crum at a bowling alley and swore him into office right there.
Crum stepped down as magistrate in January 2012 in order to seek the sheriff’s job. Before winning that job, he was appointed by the prosecutor’s office last August as a special investigator for drug enforcement.
Thornsbury said under Crum’s short watch as sheriff, the county saw 57 felony convictions, and state Delegate Harry Keith White, who campaigned with Crum last year, said there were more indictments under Crum than the county had seen in the past eight years.
Thornsbury said Crum loved going to Mingo Central football games with his grandson, hanging out with family at his backyard pool and going fishing during the summer on his pontoon boat. But his dream was to unite the sheriff’s department.
“It was his destiny,” Thornsbury said. “When you think about it, many of us don’t get the chance to live our dreams. He did.”
Thornsbury said Crum went after drug dealers and buyers “not for the glory of arrests but because, he said, ‘I’ve been to too many funeral homes. I’ve been to too many wakes. I’ve seen too many crying families. I’ve seen too many lost.’
“He wanted to do something about it. He wanted to rid the scourge.”
County Commission President John Mark Hubbard said Crum wanted to make a difference, and he did.
“And shame on anyone in this room within the sound of my voice who will not make sure that the change that this man laid his life down for does not continue,” Hubbard said, drawing loud applause.
In between speakers and while a hymn was being sung, Rosie Crum walked to her husband’s open casket, stroking his head. A U.S. flag was draped over part of the casket, surrounded by dozens of colorful flower arrangements.
She was appointed interim sheriff the day after his death.
“We need to stand behind her, we need help her and we need to fight for her,” said the Rev. Paul Caudill, a family friend. “We need to step up. I’m sure he would tell you now, don’t give up the fight. Stand for what’s right.”
After the funeral, dozens of people lined a road leading to a cemetery in Lenore. Some carried signs and balloons, and two Williamson fire trucks formed an arch draped with a U.S. flag.
“Goodbye to our hero,” read a sign made by Cindy McClanahan and her two grandsons as they waited for Crum’s hearse.
“He helped everybody he knew,” McClanahan said.