East Room

9:48 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Before I begin, let me say one thing I said to the families of the two deceased officers.  All of you who’ve lost someone know that no matter how much you take pride in recognition of what they did when they were lost, it still brings back everything like it happened that moment.  And I just say to the families, as I said to them personally at the time when I met them and now, it takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing.  And thank you.  Thank you, thank you.

Attorney General Garland, thank you for your leadership.

And today it’s my honor to award nine brave Americans the Medal of Valor, the highest award this country can bestow on a public safety officer.

The award is given for actions above and beyond the call of duty and exhibiting exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness, presence of mind, and unusual swiftness in action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in an attempt to save or protect a human life.

To the honorees, I don’t know all of you but I do know you.

From small towns and big cities, you’re cut from the same cloth.  You run — you run into danger when everybody else runs away from danger.  You possess a selflessness that’s literally impossible to explain.  And your bravery is one — it — it inspires.  It inspires people.  It inspires the community.

Like Lieutenant Justin Hespeler.  Served in the Marines and NYPD and, for the past 17 years, the Fire Department of New York.

He heard me say before that there’s an expression where I come from that, you know, God made man and then he made a few firefighters.  (Laughter.)  You’re all crazy, running into fire.  (Laughter.)

I was raised across — I went to a little Catholic school in Claymont, Delaware, across from the fire station.  Everyone I grew up, as the Secretary knows, was either — became a firefighter or a cop or a priest.  Here I am.  (Laughter.)  Anyway — but all kidding aside, the —

One morning a few days before Thanksgiving, a house fire in Brooklyn.  Heavy flames, thick smoke billowed from the windows.  Family members, including a six-year-old boy, jumped from a two-story window, yelling, “There’s a baby up there.”  Imagine the presence of mind of that young child.  “There’s a baby up there.”  Justin rushed into the fire, climbing a ladder to the second floor.

Searing heat and zero visibility forced him to the floor.  The stairs collapsed.  The hose burst, stopping fellow firefighters from being able to continue to put out the fire. 

But the order came.  “Evac…” — (coughs) — excuse me –“evacuate immediately.”

Justin searched through the smoke as fast as he could,
crawling through — (coughs) — excuse me — crawling through the hall until he found a five-week-old baby unconscious in his crib.

Justin shielded the newborn with his body, crawled back through the smoke to the window and down to safety.
New York’s Bravest.  New York’s Bravest.

And then there’s Lieutenant Jackson [Jason] Hickey.  Patrolling the waters in a fireboat on Sept- — one September afternoon, and he got an urgent call that came into his — on his boat.  Someone was in the Harlem River being swept away by the current.

Lieutenant’s boat sped to the spot beneath the Tri-Borough Bridge.  They saw a man fighting to keep his head above water as the river pulled him away, past jagged concrete toward the harbor.

In desperation, the man pulled himself into a storm tunnel built by — into the seawall.

You know, spotting his only chance to save the man, Lieutenant Hickey dove in — dove into the water.  He swam 25 feet, deep into the dark, black 4-by-4-foot tunnel where the young man was; found the man; dragged him back out into the river.

The man was, as you’d understand, panicked and struggling, and kept disappearing beneath the water.

Again and again, Lieutenant Hickey went down after him, fighting the currents and incoming tide, and pulled the man to the boat, saving his life while risking his own.  That’s bravery.

Months earlier, two miles off Staten Island, FDNY firefighter Patrick Thornton heard a distress call: a motorist [motorboat] was taking on water.

Within minutes, Patrick and his fellow firefighters reached the 18-foot motor- — 18-foot motorboat.  A giant wave crashed down, sending the passenger overboard.  And his fellow firefighters rescued one person as the motorboat began to sink.

But in a split second, the motorboat rolled over, trapping a second victim under the sinking boat.  Without hesitation, Firefighter Thornton removed his safety equipment and dove in.  Imagine diving under a sinking boat weighing literally a ton, limited visibility. 

But somehow, Patrick grabbed and swam him out from underneath that sinking boat and then up to the surface where his fellow firefighters pulled them to safety.

That’s true heroism.  That’s true heroism.

In Claremont County, Ohio, near Cincinnati, Sheriff’s Deputy Bobby Pham.  A 28-degree November day, a woman called in a crisis — a crisis hotline she called to from her car, threatening suicide.

Deputy Pham arrived on the scene, spotted her driving her Buick down a boat ramp into the frigid lake.

The car started going under.  As the current pulled it 50 feet from shore, he jumped in.  He jumped into that water.  A colleague threw him a rope that was too short.  He told the woman to roll down the window and cling to the roof.  Somehow Deputy Pham made it to the car and grabbed hold of the woman and managed to grasp the end of the rope so a colleague could pull them to shore.  Relentless bravery.  Relentless bravery.

Houston Police Sergeant Kendri [sic] Simpo — Kendrick — excuse me — Kendrick Simpo — working an extra job on Saturday morning as a security guard in a mall in Houston.  A report came in that a man wearing a black leather mask with metal spikes on it, armed with an A- — AR-15 with 120 rounds of ammo and a handgun 40 feet from where hundreds of children gathered for a dance competition.

Sergeant Simpo ran to the scene, but he didn’t want to panic the children by drawing his weapon as he approached, so he kept it holstered.  He rushed the gunman alone, tackling him to the ground and grabbed the AR-15 and used it to pin the suspect to the wall until help arrived.

When asked about his heroism, Sergeant Simpo said, “I know what I signed up for.”  “I know what I signed up for.”

A lot of people may know what they sign up for until it hits, man, and you don’t really know what you signed up for.

You know, I think one of your — you know — you signed up for — I think it’s one of the hardest jobs in America, what you signed up for.  And it hits hardest when your own — when your own is in danger.

Littleton, Colorado — Police Officer Corporal Jeffrey Farmer and his partner, Officer David Snook, responded to a call of shots fired.  In a dark parking lot, they approached the suspect’s vehicle.  One of the suspects took off running from the vehicle.  The foot chase that followed, Corporal Farmer severely injured his knee.  Officer Snook chased the suspect into the lobby of a apartment building, where the gunman shot him multiple times.

Corporal Farmer somehow made it to his injured partner, returning fire and dragging his partner out of the doorway amid the hail of bullets.  Realizing that Officer Snook didn’t have time to wait for an ambulance, Corporal Farmer pulled him into his patrol car and raced to the hospital.  And just a few more minutes, Officer Snook would have died.  Thanks to Corporal Farmer, he survived, and he can — and he can be a dad to his three young boys, who I got to meet today.

On this day, remember all — all — all the families.

You know, the English poet John Milton once wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  They also serve who only stand and wait.

Each time your officer pins on their shield and walks out that door, there are spouses, children, parents who stand and wait and hope for their safe return.  In some cases, dread — depending what the call is — dread that they’ll get a call. 

To all the family members here, especially those who have served in uniform: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And finally, while acts of heroism mean lives saved, they can also mean lives lost. 

Today, we posthumously honor two deceased NYPD detectives from the 32nd Precinct: Wilbert Mora and Jackson [sic] — Jason Rivera. 

And we honor Detective Sumit Sulan, who is also here today.

Here, one day in January, in Harlem, they responded to a 911 call from a distressed woman.  Her grown-up son was threatening her and his brother.  When they arrived at the apartment, Detective Mora and Rivera walked down the hallway in the back room to check on the man. 

Detective Sulan, then still a rookie, was assigned to observe his more experienced colleagues, stayed back with the mom and the other son.  Suddenly, the door flew open.  The man started firing from the back room.  He had a stolen Glock, illegally modified with a drum magazine capable of holding 40 rounds.  Detective Rivera and Mora were hit. 

Detective Rivera died a few hours later at age 22, one of the youngest officers ever killed on the line of duty.  Detective Mora died four days later, just 27 years old.  They are the “who” and the “what” law enforcement of this country should be.

You know, their families are here today, including Detective Mora’s mom, sister, and Detective Mora’s [Rivera’s] childhood sweetheart, married just months before he was killed.  She’s expecting their child any day now.

I told the story of Detective Mora and Rivera at a State of the Union last year.  I spoke with the families shortly after their funerals.  I told them, and I meant it then and I mean it now, that our nation is forever in debt for their loved ones and the sacrifice they made on behalf of their fellow citizens.

That terrible day, when the bullets started flying, Detective Sulan had only been then — with the precinct — the 32nd Precinct for two months.  Two months.  But he jumped into action.  He shielded the mother and brother from gunfire, then drew his weapon to fire twice, hitting the gunman and ending the incident. 

A very dark day for the city of New York could have been more — even more tragic, with a much higher body count, if it weren’t for Detective Sulan.

Let me — you know, I met the detective shortly after that, and I knew his relatives were going to be around.  And he relives that day often.  Detective Mora and Rivera are never far from his mind.  And the entire nation is grateful for the quick thinking, swift action, and courage under fire that he demonstrated.

So let me close this.  There’s no greater responsibility of government than to ensure the safety of the American people and those who serve and protect us all.  We’re incredibly proud of all of you, and I mean that.  Incredibly proud of all of you.  And we’re going to have your back as long as we need to, as long as you’re engaged.

You know, in just the past two weeks, our nation has observed a National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, National Police Weekend, National Peace Memorial Officers Day, and I’ve also hosted this event several times as President and Vice President, and co-sponsored the bill that created the Medal of Freedom when I was a U.S. senator — the Medal of Valor — when I was a U.S. senator. 

These are the same — these are some of the most meaningful things that I do as President, because knowing you, meeting your families, looking in your eyes, seeing your courage gives me so much hope for the country.  You represent — and this is not hyperbole — you represent the very best of us.  You represent the best of who we are as Americans. 

And God bless you all.  May God protect public safety officers and their families.

It’s now my honor to award these medals and ask my military aides to read the citations.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  Now, presenting the Medal of Valor to Corporal Jeffrey Farmer. 

Corporal Jeffrey Farmer of the Littleton Police Department, for his rapid action to save the life of a fellow officer who had been grievously wounded.  Persevering through his own injuries and under grave threat to his own life, Corporal Farmer displayed courage, poise, and uncommon loyalty to his fellow officer.

(The Medal of Valor is presented.)  (Applause.)

Firefighter Justin Hespeler.

Firefighter Justin Hespeler of the New York City Fire Department, for the absolute courage he displayed as he rushed into a burning house and crawled through thick smoke and extreme heat, despite an evacuation order, to find and rescue a newborn baby.  His undaunted determination under punishing conditions and willingness to put himself at grave risk saved the child’s life and embodies the strength and spirit of New York’s Bravest.

(The Medal of Valor is presented.)  (Applause.)

Lieutenant Jason Hickey.

Lieutenant Jason Hickey of the New York City Fire Department, Retired, for his fearless resolve and quick thinking as he braved life-threatening obstacles to rescue a man from the surging Harlem River.  His heroic actions cap a 27-year career of decorated and selfless service to his colleagues and to the people of New York.

(The Medal of Valor is presented.)  (Applause.)

Gabina Amalia Mora, accepting on behalf of her son, fallen Detective Wilbert Mora.  Dominique Rivera, accepting on behalf of her husband, fallen Detective Jason Rivera.  And Detective Sumit Sulan.  (Applause.)

[Fallen] Detectives Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora and Detective Sumit Sulan of the New York City Police Department, who put themselves in the line of fire to protect a mother and son from an armed man threatening violence in their home.  Officers [Detectives] Rivera and Mora positioned themselves between the assailant and the other occupants of the house.  They were ambushed, shot multiple times, and died from their injuries.  Detective Sulan ensured the safety of the civilians on the scene and struck down the gunman with his service weapon, bringing an end to the deadly episode just 45 seconds after it had begun.  Together, the officers’ poise and valor saved lives, and Officers [Detectives] Rivera and Mora’s sacrifice will never be forgotten.

(The Medals of Valor are presented.)  (Applause.) 

Deputy Bobby Hau Pham.

Deputy Bobby Hau Pham of the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office, for his resolute determination to fulfill his mission, diving into frigid waters to save a drowning woman, despite being unable to swim [who had driven her car into a lake].  He demonstrated clear thinking and ingenuity and maintained his composure as he risked his life to save the life of another.

(The Medal of Valor is presented.)  (Applause.)

Sergeant Kendrick Simpo.

Sergeant Kendrick Simpo of the Houston Police Department, who demonstrated unflinching bravery as he fearlessly confronted a man carrying an assault-style rifle in a shopping mall who appeared intent on inflicting harm.  Sergeant Simpo acted discreetly and decisively, placing the safety of others above his own and restraining the heavily armed suspect with his own hands.

(The Medal of Valor is presented.)  (Applause.)

And Firefighter [Lieutenant] Patrick Thornton.

Firefighter [Lieutenant] Patrick Thornton of the New York City Fire Department, for diving instinctively toward danger to save a man trapped beneath a capsized boat and pulling him through treacherous waters to safety.  His courage and decisive action saved the man’s life and demonstrated a commitment to the highest traditions of public service.

(The Medal of Valor is presented.)  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let’s give one last round of — big round of applause to the recipients of the Medal of Valor.  (Applause.)

Well, thank you all for your service and your sacrifice.  And I mean this sincerely: May God bless you and your families. 

We — America owes you a debt of gratitude.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  (Applause.)

10:12 A.M. EDT

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