Hundreds of people gathered in Knightdale Wednesday to remember Ryan Hayworth, the police officer who died days earlier after a man crashed into two police cars stopped on the side of the road.
Just 23 years old, Hayworth had an impact on the Knightdale Police Department after three months in the department, Chief Lawrence Capps said.
“He was most definitely needed by this department and this community,” Capps said at a vigil at Knightdale Station Park. “Because of the way he carried himself, I dare you to find anybody that ever felt any contempt for him.”
As a young police officer, Hayworth inhabited several roles, including counselor, guardian, minister, and peacemaker, Capps said.
Hayworth and other Knightdale police officers were investigating a single-car crash on Interstate 540 just after 2:30 a.m. on Sunday when a man approaching from behind struck one of the police cars, pushing it into the other.
His training officer, Cody Hagler, was also injured in the crash, but not seriously, officials previously said. On Wednesday Hagler was at Knightdate Station Park to honor Hayworth too.
Capps said Hayworth was dedicated to serving others. Prior to joining the Knightdale Police Department, Hayworth served in the U.S. Army. His father, Tim Hayworth, was a former Zebulon police chief.
Those who knew Hayworth well wouldn’t be surprised that Hayworth “thrust himself into the role of a police officer,” particularly during “one of the most trying times in our country,” Capps said.
Toward the end of his remarks, Capps asked those present to turn to the nearest police officer and look directly at them.
“Take a few seconds to see beyond the badge and ponder their true identity,” he urged them.
Speaking to the officers, Capps instructed them to dismiss any “preconceived notions” they might have about the person looking back at them.
“Just let your mind absorb an undeniable truth that Ryan would want all of you to know,” Capps said. “The person looking back at you is just as complex as you are. We are all composites of many different things.”
Capps offered the officers advice on how they could best pay tribute to Hayworth’s legacy.
“This job was never about us,” Capps told them. “Ryan knew that, and if we remember it the way he did, his legacy will live on.”
After Capps and a pastor from the church that Hayworth’s family attends spoke, organizers walked from person to person to light candles they had handed out earlier.
Slowly, an entire field that grew dark during the gathering lit up with a warm glow.