Two robberies, two brave officers; only one lives to see honor
November 19, 2011
BOSTON — A Lowell police officer who dodged bullets to chase a bank-robbery suspect was one of 27 law-enforcement officers honored yesterday by Gov. Deval Patrick, with the ceremony’s top honor bestowed upon a Woburn police officer and Wilmington resident who was killed while responding to a separate robbery.
Lowell police Sgt. Stephen Morrill received a Medal of Valor at the 28th annual Trooper George L. Hanna Memorial Awards for his actions responding to an attempted robbery at the Lowell Co-operative Bank on Hurd Street in August 2010. The robbery suspect attempted to lure Morrill into the bank to take him hostage, before running away. Morrill followed and was shot at twice.
“The guy tried to kill him twice, but Steve was able to use his training and his abilities and his knowledge and was able to prevent that from happening,” said Lowell Police Superintendent Kenneth Lavallee, who nominated Morrill for the award.
Secretary of Public Safety and Security Mary Beth Heffernan, who presented the awards, said Morrill followed the suspect closely through city streets until additional officers arrived for backup.
The suspect committed suicide before police could reach him.
“A police officer can never know what danger lies ahead when he or she responds to a call,” Heffernan said at the Statehouse ceremony. “The actions of Sgt. Stephen Morrill, relentlessly pursuing an armed gunman who twice fired at him, were the epitome of determination and bravery.” Morrill, a 24-year veteran of the department, said he was humbled to receive the award.
“I go to work every day, and I just do my job,” he said. “Anybody in the Lowell Police Department in that same situation would have done the same thing. Our training kicks and we just do our job.”
The Hanna Awards commemorate Massachusetts State Trooper George L. Hanna, who died in 1983 after being shot multiple times by a man whose car he stopped for questioning in Auburn.
Patrick said the awards are given to officers who have demonstrated bravery that goes above and beyond expectations.
“In recognition of the courageous and selfless actions these heroes displayed, Massachusetts owes them a debt of gratitude,” he said.
Morrill is the second Lowell officer to receive a Hanna Award. Officer Howard Osborne earned a Medal of Honor in 1991 for his response to an armed robbery of a grocery store.
Officer John “Jack” Maguire, a Woburn police officer killed while responding to a botched jewelry robbery in December 2010, posthumously received the ceremony’s top honor. The family of Maguire, who lived in Wilmington, was presented with a Medal of Honor award. Police said Maguire was shot and killed by Domenic Cinelli, a career criminal who also died in the exchange of gunfire.
Maguire’s killing led to an overhaul of the state parole board. Patrick fired five members of the board who voted in 2008 to grant parole to Cinelli despite his history of violent crime.
Cinelli had been sentenced to life in prison in Suffolk County and later received two concurrent life sentences for crimes committed in Middlesex County. The officer’s slaying also prompted renewed calls for tougher laws against habitual offenders. Earlier this week, the House passed a measure that would prohibit anyone who has been convicted of a third serious felony from being considered for parole. The state Senate included a similar provision as part of a broader anti-crime package. A final bill is possible sometime after the first of the year.
Officers from Boston, Fall River, Everett, Chelsea were also presented with awards for bravery, as were officers from the Massachusetts State Police, FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Some material from the Associated Press was used in this report.