Summer is for visiting family. And since the church is supposed to be one big family – albeit with many different personalities and a few crazy cousins – this summer my family has made a goal of visiting a different church every week. That’s how we were invited to Richmond Corner Baptist Church’s Police Appreciation Sunday this weekend and discovered the moving story of Lewiston Officer David R. Payne, who was ambushed and shot to death by someone he was trying to help thirty years ago this week.

On July 23, 1988, Payne, the only son of a Maine preacher, responded to a routine call of a reported car accident in the woods off the River Road in Lewiston. According to the web site, his father, the late police chaplain Ray Payne, had encouraged him, “If law enforcement was God’s will for his life… to become the best police officer possible.” It is easy to forget the price too many such good officers pay.

Only two years after graduating from the Maine Police Academy, 26-year-old Payne tuned in as his radio crackled with the call. Two other officers were already on their way. Payne had just one hour left on his double shift, but he went to assist anyway. Unknown to the officers, the car in the woods belonged to Joseph Lee Loveall, who had a trail of convictions that went back two decades. Loveall, on the run from the law and wanted on a warrant for his arrest, was later reported to have driven off the road after accidentally shooting himself in the leg.

When the officers arrived at the scene, Payne stepped into the woods. Seconds later, Loveall shot Payne. The other officers discovered the fugitive crouched behind a tree with a cocked .44 magnum revolver and arrested him. Payne was found dead nearby, leaving behind a widow and two young children. In response, his father, wrote a pamphlet, ‘Only One Son,’ to share his son’s story as well as that of his faith in a God who gave his only Son as well.

This Sunday at 10:45 a.m., Payne’s brother-in-law, the retired Sgt. Mark Dow, will be sharing at his parents’ church in Payne’s memory and in recognition of the many police officers, sheriff deputies, game wardens and their families who help keep Maine safe. “My only goal,” said Dow, who now lives in Virginia and is the son of the church’s pastor, “is to establish a viable support system for their local police.” A special coffee hour will be held at 9:30 a.m. to honor those who serve, and the public is encouraged to attend.

The Richmond Corner Baptist Church will also be sharing Officer Payne’s story at the upcoming Richmond Days parade and celebration, held during the last weekend of this month. During these days of increasing violence, it is a much needed reminder to support and pray for those who seek to make our country a safer place. Visiting a local family church is a great way to start.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series releases this fall with The Christmas Cradle.