Two Pennsylvania state troopers were honored -- one of them posthumously -- at the White House Wednesday for rescuing a 9-year-old Nazareth boy kidnapped at gunpoint by his father.
Troopers Robert Lombardo and Joshua Miller received the Medal of Valor, the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer, during a ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“It [the ceremony] is just an attempt to show you how much we appreciate, how much we recognize, how much we need men and women like you to keep this a civil society,” Biden said to the 18 recipients for 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Miller was honored posthumously. His wife, Angela Miller, tearfully accepted the Medal of Valor and condolences from Biden and Holder.
Trooper Joshua Miller was killed June 7, 2009 during the boy's rescue, when Daniel Autenrieth fired three shots from a 9mm Taurus. Miller was struck in the right thigh and neck, while Lombardo was shot once in the left shoulder.
Biden rhetorically asked, “What is it that pushes a man like Trooper Joshua Miller to think that the safety of a 9-year-old is more important than his own?”
The vice president, however, may have answered his own question in earlier remarks:
“You all share a selflessness that’s not easy to explain. A bravery that inspires literally everyone who hears about it,” Biden said. “Being a police officer or a firefighter is not what you do, it’s who you are.”
He quietly added, again, “It’s who you are.”
Autenrieth’s son was rescued uninjured by former Nazareth Officer Fred Lahovski, who was also with the Tatamy Borough Police Department at the time, and Trooper John Osterhout, according to a report in The Express-Times.
Lombardo and Miller were able to return fire, hitting Autenrieth eight times. He died in his car.
Lombardo recently returned to duty at the Swiftwater barracks in Pocono Township, the White House said.
A White House press release notes that Miller ended the 40-mile pursuit of Autenrieth by using the "PIT maneuver," which forced Autenrieth to lose control of his vehicle and stop. The chase started in Nazareth Borough and ended on Route 611 in Coolbaugh Township, Monroe County.
Biden compared the ethos of police officers and firefighters to that of the U.S. military.
“Firefighters and cops, like the military, never leave a fallen comrade behind,” he said. “To me, you are the spine of the country. You’re the heart, the soul and the spine of the nation.”
According to a White House press release, the Medal of Valor “is awarded to public safety officers who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life."
A total of 78 people, including Wednesday’s awardees, have been presented with the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor since the first recipients were honored in 2003.