by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Sgt. W.C. Tupper of the West Virginia State Police made his way through the throng of people standing in the large entranceway outside the Fanning Funeral Home chapel. Tupper stood at attention in the chapel door as the Reverend Randall Dority moved cautiously to the podium near the funeral bier where the remains of Officer Shaun P. Wellman had laid in state for two days.
No words were exchanged as Tupper came to attention and walked slowly to the front of the chapel. Tupper saluted, did an about face and left the chapel with the two Welch officers — Patrick McKinney and Donnie Perry — who had stood posts beside the remains of their comrade, left the chapel. Dority asked the gathering to bow their heads with him in prayer.
Following Dority’s opening prayer, Dustin England made his way to the podium. He paused for several moments before reading the obituary of his friend, Shaun Wellman. England’s voice revealed that it was not an easy task, but his reading seemed to make the words all the more powerful. England kept his eyes focused on a printed copy of the obituary, but still struggled with every word. Shaun Wellman was 32. He died at Charleston Area Medical Center on May 5.
“I never thought I would be here doing this,” Dority said as he walked away from the microphone on the podium and spoke directly to Wellman’s family and friends who were seated in the chapel. The crowd filled the over-flow rooms outside the chapel, the entrance area and the hallway to the funeral home offices. More people stood outside.
“When Missy asked me to do this, I said I would,” Dority said of Officer Wellman’s wife, Melissa “Missy” Wellman. He said that Shaun had asked his wife to ask Reverend Dority to conduct the service if it was ever necessary.
Dority said he had known Shaun most of his life. “I knew his father. His father was also a police officer,” Dority said. “Shaun rode the late bus when he was in school. We used to talk a lot. Then Shawn got a guitar. I played a little guitar, and all Shaun wanted to talk about was playing guitar. He kept practicing and became quite good.”
Dority spoke briefly about the “tragic accident” that claimed Wellman’s life, but pointed with pride to the many people who attended the service as well as the visitation on Wednesday evening. “McDowell County people are the best this side of Heaven,” Dority said. He also praised the brotherhood of law enforcement officers who attended both the visitation and the service.
“I got to talk with some of the officers last night during the visitation,” Dority said. He then related a story he heard from Police Chief Eugene Muncy who told him that an older gentleman was in the police station when Wellman and Donnie Perry were playing their guitars and singing gospel music. “He didn’t stop them.” Danny Barie said that it was not unusual for the two officers to play guitar and sing in the police station. “Donnie and Shaun played guitar while Officer Lyle Noe sang Christmas and gospel songs for our Christmas party last year,” Barie said.
Following the service, McDowell County 911 paged out a “Last Call” for Unit 997 — Wellman’s unit. Corrections officers and personnel from the Stevens Correctional Center lined both sides of U.S. Route 52 at the prison and firefighters with the Welch Fire Department staged three units including their ladder truck — Welch Tower 2 — in the State Police Welch Detachment parking lot. The ladder truck had an American flag displayed at the top of the ladder.
Several other communities on Route 52 stood outside to watch as the funeral procession passed.
A gospel group sang on the sidewalk in Northfork and the Northfork Fire Department saluted as the procession passed by. During the service, Dority said he would remember Wellman for his smile. “He was a happy person,” Dority said. He recalled the last thing Wellman said to him. “He said something he always said. ‘If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.”
Wellman graduated from Iaeger High School in 1999, graduated from the 114th Class of the West Virginia State Police Academy. This was his second tour with the Welch Police Department. He also served for a time as a McDowell County sheriff’s deputy.
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org