By Leah Sander
and Dan Spalding
WARSAW — A Warsaw teenager was remembered on Wednesday, Jan. 12, as one who “brought light and life” to others, including many police officers.
Warsaw Police Department Chaplain Layne Sumner spoke those words at the funeral for Drake Price at Warsaw Community Church.
The 16-year-old passed away on Friday, Jan. 7. He faced several health struggles beginning with a brain tumor diagnosis in 2017 and then stroke after surgery on it.
But as was referenced at his funeral, it was Price’s cheerful spirit in spite of his struggles that endeared people to him, including police officers to whose profession he aspired toward.
At least 25 officers came to the funeral on Wednesday, most of them from the WPD. The department became close to the boy over the past several years, naming him an honorary officer in 2017.
The WPD and other police departments also provided a funeral escort for the hearse carrying Price’s body from WCC to a cemetery near Albion.
Sumner expounded on how Price affected officers’ lives.
“You know hope, this may be one of the greatest ways that Drake blessed his second family (of police officers), maybe one of the best ways that he encouraged his first responder family who knew him and who loved him,” said Sumner.
“You see first responders they see the dark side of life daily, the wickedness, the hopelessness, the violence, the despair, the death and destruction, all of the dark side of life, every day that they put on the uniform, every day that they go to work … And if a law enforcement officer isn’t careful, there’s a tendency to become maybe jaded, sometimes bitter, maybe even over the years of a career, cynical about people and about the world.”
“And then you meet somebody like Drake in your career and I don’t believe … it was an accident,” continued Sumner. “He came into our lives. I think God brings people like Drake into our lives, a person like him who has every right to be anxious, every right to be fearful, every right to be desperate, every right to be angry, every right to maybe even be bitter because of the hand that he was dealt, but he was not.”
“He was joyful in a life filled with trial, a life filled with adversity,” said Sumner. “He was strong, by all measures courageous when he should have been fearful and he exuded hope and his hope helps give us hope. That’s what Drake shined into our lives: hope, joyful hope in a world of darkness and we were blessed by it.”
Sumner also shared that Price made other people’s lives better through his faith in God, joy and love.
One of the officers whose life Price touched was Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Northwest District Officer Marlin Sechrist.
Sechrist spoke of his connection to the teen at the service. He first met Price when he and fellow officers visited him at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis when Price was being treated for his brain tumor in 2017.
Sechrist is originally from the Warsaw area. After seeing a Facebook post asking for police uniform patches for Price since he wanted to become an officer, Sechrist asked his supervisors if officers could deliver a patch personally.
Sechrist said Indianapolis officers continued to bond with Price over the years by providing police escorts when Price made trips down to Indianapolis for various activities.
“I think he saw more police lights and heard more police sirens during all his escorts than I have in my 20-year career,” remarked Sechrist.
“I can’t express the impact Drake has had on our lives,” Sechrist continued through tears. “My only hope is that we had a fraction of the impact on his life that he has had on ours.”
Sechrist added that the IMPD made Price an honorary officer on one of his visits to Indianapolis. The IMPD honored him one last time Wednesday by giving him posthumously a community service award.
For the award, Sechrist had WPD Chief Scott Whitaker present Price’s family with a flag flown over the IMPD’s Northwest District headquarters.
“It’s given to an officer or officers that go above and beyond what is expected of them while making an impact on the community,” he said of the award.
Meanwhile, the community showed its support in different ways.
Outside the Warsaw Police Station, the only flag flying was a black and blue “Thin Blue Line” flag, which stood at half staff.
The electronic sign outside of Warsaw City Hall paid tribute to the youth for his inspiration.
About 14 teachers from Lincoln Elementary School, where staff and students grew to know Price over recent years, asked for time off to attend the funeral. Warsaw Community Schools administrators from the central office stepped into classrooms at the school to fill in for them.
One of the educators who asked for time off was Rachel Grose, Price’s fifth-grade teacher. After the service, she parked near the school to watch the funeral procession pass as it traveled toward police headquarters two blocks away where others were watching in observance.
The day before, Grose created a Drake Strong sign on a chainlink fence outside the school, using red, white and blue plastic drinking cups. On Wednesday, she wore a Drake Strong shirt emblazoned with the motto embraced by Price: “If you’re not smiling, you’re not doing it right.”
“He was like a rock star in our building,” she said.
She said she believed he made a tremendous impact on the community.
“We saw him day in and day out, and the smile and the joy he brought through very difficult circumstances and (he) was always concerned about others,” she said.
WPD Detective Sgt. Brad Kellar said they looked for ways to honor Price and settled on the flag.
“Clearly, there are some aspects of a sworn officer’s funeral that we must leave for that specifically, but we searched for every way possible to honor our honorary Officer Drake Price through the last few days,” he said.