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Murdered corrections officer remembered for courage, commitment and compassion

Several thousand mourners, many of them uniformed law  enforcement officers, gathered in Everett Tuesday to pay tribute to Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl.

Biendl was killed January 29th while on duty at the state prison in Monroe. She was the first corrections officer killed in a Washington prison in over 30 years.

The ceremony at Comcast Arena displayed all the traditional symbolism of funerals for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty: an honor guard, a rifle drill team, a three-volley rifle salute, a bagpipe and drum corps band playing "Amazing Grace."

Speaker after speaker recalled Biendl as courageous and compassionate, dedicated to her work, to her colleagues and to her family. Co-worker Kristen Marken praised her friend as someone who kept a positive attitude while doing a difficult job.

“Jayme was a caring person whose eyes were always smiling, even in an environment where it’s easy to become cynical.”

The circumstances of Biendl’s death – strangled by an inmate while on duty alone the prison chapel – has raised questions about staffing policies. Secretary of Corrections Eldon Vail called for an airing of those issues.

“The tragic loss of Jayme Biendl must result in an honest public discussion about prison safety,” he said. “A conversation that is overdue, but much needed.”

Vail noted that the deaths of staff members at the prison in Walla Walla in 1979 led to changes that improved safety for staff and inmates.

Officials at the union that represents corrections officers say Biendl had expressed concerns about understaffing and lack of surveillance cameras in the chapel where she was ultimately killed.

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.
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