Family, friends and first responders gathered at the Ocean Shores Convention Center Saturday to remember Hoquiam Police Officer Phil High as a steady, professional law enforcement officer with a knack for helping people through their darkest hours.
“Phil was steady, Phil was professional,” said officer Aaron Hergert.
Hergert said, “When I had some crazy idea about swinging off a rooftop and breaking through a window” to get the bad guy, “Phil would say no, no, no, we’re not doing this. I would stop and say, yeah, he was probably right, I shouldn’t do that.”
Sgt. Jeff Salstrom said High was “definitely the yin to Aaron’s yang … Phil was the calm, reasonable one.”
Salstrom and High worked closely together and Salstrom related the story of the two being shot at while attempting to make an arrest in March 2013. Salstrom was wounded in the incident.
“We tried to arrest a guy that tried to shoot both of us. That’s something that brings you together,” he said. “We worked together for several years, and that year we had several other high risk incidents.”
High was one of the officers you wanted with you when dealing with subjects with mental health issues, said Salstrom.
“Unfortunately, we deal with a lot of people with mental health issues,” he said. “Phil was always calm, rational and very good at communicating with people.”
High and Salstrom wound up on different shifts for several years, and only recently had begun a rotation that had the two working at least partial shifts together.
“Unfortunately, I only had part of one shift with him,” said Salstrom. “We talked about Adrian (High’s stepson). Adrian, your dad was very proud of you. Phil was in good spirits and we had a good conversation.” At the end of that conversation, “he said see you later. Unfortunately that didn’t take place.”
Salstrom compared life to a book, saying “each phase is like a chapter. Phil didn’t finish his book, he was still working on it.” That book is High’s legacy, and “it’s up to us to finish the book for him. Make sure his legacy is not defined by a moment in time, but by the chapters he had already written.”
High died by suicide at the family home in Ocean Shores Jan. 14. His memorial service took place on his 10th anniversary with the Hoquiam Police Department.
“We’re not here because of the last minutes of his life, we’re here because of the over 27 million minutes of life where he changed our lives, the lives of the people he loved and the people he served as a peace officer in our community”, said Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers.
The loss of High was devastating for the department, and for his wife, Molly, and stepson.
“Some are angry, some are confused, most all are devastated. Each of us is suffering from the loss of a wonderful person we cannot explain and we sometimes cannot understand,” said Myers. “Every person here is grieving. It’s not a place, it’s a journey that we take together, but each must walk the path in our own way. That is why we are here, to celebrate Phil and all the love we have for Phil.”
Myers talked about High’s commitment to the force, including his work with the department’s Chief for a Day program and his many hours spent on the department’s successful accreditation efforts in 2013, and its re-accreditation in 2017. At the time of his death, he was working on the 2021 re-accreditation.
“I see part of Phil in every one of those green folders,” said Myers. “He leaves some big shoes to fill.”
High went back to school while on the force, completing his master’s degree in public administration with a graduate certificate in Public Human Resources Management from Penn State University, and was pursuing a doctoral degree while working on completing his clinical hours at a local medical facility.
“He decided to dedicate his academic pursuits to help first responders and veterans suffering from PTSD,” said Myers. “Even well before he went back to school he was our de facto problem person whisperer, because he listened. He listened, as a sincere and caring individual who wanted to help. He was a natural counselor. I wonder how many persons in crisis will remember Phil as a person who helped bring them out of their darkness.”
“I can only pray that his struggles, whether long or short, are over and he is at peace,” said Myers. “In recognition of his life of dedication, service and sacrifice, remember to lend a kind word, or hand, or ear, and remember no matter what, there is always hope in tomorrow.”