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Originally published December 2, 2009 at 10:20 PM | Page modified December 3, 2009 at 2:55 PM

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Graham neighborhood embraces grieving family

In the days since Gregory Richards, 42, was gunned down in a local coffee shop, officers from the Kent Police Department, where Richards began his law-enforcement career, have been outside his Graham house in a patrol car.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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GRAHAM, Pierce County — It's the little things that matter most right now, small kindnesses to help fill a void.

In the days since Gregory Richards, 42, was gunned down in a local coffee shop, officers from the Kent Police Department, where Richards began his law-enforcement career, have been outside his Graham house in a patrol car.

They work six-hour shifts on their own time, so that his widow and three kids won't feel alone.

"It is a constant vigil," said Melanie Burwell, Richards' sister-in-law.

"It's that sense of support, a salute to Greg. It lifts her that tiny bit," she said of Kelly, Richards' widow.

Volunteers from the Fire Department in Graham turned out Tuesday, some 15 firefighters and their spouses decorating the Richards' home for Christmas. They were up on the roof, putting up lights. Tying velvet bows on the garage, and on the front porch. Raising a Christmas tree on the lawn.

A firefighter brought a second tree for the house, poking fresh and green out of his red pickup.

Neighbors arrived up the front walk, filling a basket with cards.

A steadily growing collection of flower arrangements, with pictures of Richards tucked amid the blooms, was taking shape as a memorial display on the front lawn.

A neighborhood restaurant sent enough food for a banquet.

As night fell and the moon sailed full and bright in the sky, the Christmas lights glowed — and the guys from Graham Fire and Rescue arrived in the ladder truck, just for the Richards kids, to give them a spin around the neighborhood to lift their spirits. The truck, all lights and siren and shining red paint, brightened what might otherwise have been a too-quiet night.

A sign by the side of the road reminds the family every time they come and go: "As a Community Neighbors and Friends," it reads. "Our Hearts and Prayers are With You."

The U.S. flag at the entrance to the development flies at half-staff; Dwayne Good, head of the neighborhood association, saw to that as soon as he heard the news Sunday.

Like others here, Good felt not only grief and shock, but a sense of being robbed.

The Richards family had moved here recently, just over a year ago. But they had become part of the community.

This neighborhood is cul-de-sac America, with perfect lawns and people who take pride in taking care of them — and each other.

"He was someone you could count on to help with anything," Good said, remembering Greg and Kelly Richards arriving to help shovel yard after yard of beauty bark to neaten the development's common grounds.

Next-door neighbor John Brewer enjoyed sending his kids over to wear themselves out on the Richards' trampoline.

"He was someone people would go to for advice; he has three kids, he's a police officer, he had seen a lot of life. I thought, 'When my kids are in junior high, I'll be talking to him and my dad,' " Brewer said.

"You realize just how much was taken from the family, the friends, the community. It's one more voice we won't have to turn to."

Neighbor Stu Wheeler was putting Christmas lights on his house Sunday when he heard the news. By Tuesday, he said, he still couldn't bring himself to light them. "It just didn't feel right."

Long after next Tuesday's memorial service for the slain officers, the people here will still be there for the family, said neighbor Cary Bertram. "This neighborhood has turned out," Bertram said.

"And as long as they are living here, our eyes will be on that home."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or

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