One year later: Family and friends honor slain police chief

RAINIER, Ore. - It's the little things Kathy Painter misses about her son, Ralph Painter, like how he'd walk through her door.

"He says, 'Mom, coffee on? You got cookies?' That was his first line when he come in the door. Not, 'Hi Mom, how ya doing?' It was straight to the cookie jar."

The beloved small-town police chief was gunned down a year ago. And on the anniversary of his murder, friends and family came together to honor him.

"This year, this Christmas is in honor of him," Kathy says. "That's why I did my (Christmas tree) lights white and blue."

She shows off the ornaments with her son's picture emblazoned on them. The family made them in his honor.

Ralph's brother, Manuel, says a year later, it's actually harder. His brother changed his life.

"I miss him," he says. "I can't call him anymore and ask him what his opinion is."

It was Ralph he credits with setting boundaries for him and motivating him to get treatment for a meth addiction. That was more than four years ago.

"Ralph said you don't have to do that anymore. You can get clean and sober and find other ways to get through life," Manuel says. "It had to hurt him, knowing he had a little brother mixed up."

But he says Ralph was always supportive, always offering advice and was always there right up until the few days before he was shot and killed in the line of duty while simply doing his job. It was a heart of service that extended to the public but began in his home with family.

"He told me that he loved me," Manuel says. "He came and took me to lunch in Vancouver just before he died. He told me he loved me and that he would stay in my corner as long as I stayed in sobriety. My last words to him: 'I love you big brother.'"

Kathy says her son always knew he wanted to be a firefighter or a police officer.

"He was special. He'll always be special to Mom," she says.

But what made her most proud of her son was not his role as the police chief of Rainier but his diligence as a loving father. It was his young son who led mourners into his memorial service last year.

"At bedtime for his little boy - I don't care if he was on duty or what - he'd stop by and make sure he tucked his little boy in. And that little boy misses that. So that's the hard part."

It was the first time one of the town's police officers was killed in the line of duty.

A judge expects to rule in two weeks on whether Ralph Painter's accused killer, Daniel Butts, is competent enough to stand trial. A mental competency hearing for him wrapped up Tuesday. He could face the death penalty if he goes to trial.

The community honored Ralph Painter at Rainier High School with a spaghetti feed Thursday night. It was a fundraiser to raise money for signs along the section of highway named in his honor. A candlelight vigil was also held.