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Public invited to April 16 unveiling ceremony of law enforcement memorial

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By Jenny Hartley

A project five years in the making will be unveiled in the next couple of weeks.

Sal and Lois Rao of Lancaster have worked for five years to see that a law enforcement memorial to honor those in Lancaster County who have died in the line of duty was built here.

Their hard work has come to fruition, and the public will be able to see the black granite memorial unveiled at the corner of Dunlap and Catawba streets, behind the Lancaster County Courthouse, on April 16.

Six names are listed on the monument: B. Frank Sowell, Lancaster Police Department; Walter T. Bell, S.C. Highway Patrol; Curtis J. Pope, state constable; Coleman B. McAteer, state constable; Roy D. Hardin, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office; and J.T. McAteer, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.

Not long ago, the Raos discovered the story of W. Clarence Hunter of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office. Hunter’s name will be added to the memorial before the unveiling, Lois Rao said.

There’s one name that won’t be listed on the monument, but the Raos and others in local law enforcement will probably feel the spirit of the Raos’ son, Mike, when the memorial is unveiled.

Mike Rao, a senior trooper for the Highway Patrol, was hit by a car while on duty in June 2002 in Clarendon County, and died a few days later. He began his career in law enforcement in Lancaster, working for both the Lancaster Police Department and Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office before moving on to the Highway Patrol. He touched many here, and many local officers have good memories of him. His name is listed on a law enforcement memorial in Clarendon County.

It’s a loss his parents feel every day. But instead of holding on to their grief, Sal and Lois Rao decided to make something positive come out of Mike’s death. The best thing they did, Sal Rao said, was get involved in organizations that assists survivors of those killed in law enforcement.

“It helps us to help other families,” he said.

They began asking for donations, organizing barbecues and searching for monument companies to make a law enforcement memorial in Lancaster County a reality.

“It keeps Mike close to our hearts,” Lois Rao said. “It keeps him living. We’re so proud to be a part of the law enforcement family. This is why we do it – for the officers. This is for the families. We’ve been in that position, so we know how these families feel.”

Sal and Lois Rao thank those who donated to the memorial. They encourage retired law enforcement officers to attend the unveiling, which begins at 11 a.m. April 16. The ceremony will feature an honor guard, speakers, a bagpiper and a trumpeter.

“We are so excited about being a part of it,” Lois Rao said. “I can’t wait to see how it’s going to help some of these families in their healing, even after all these years.”

 Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at 283-1151