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Erik Burgess, Published May 25 2013

Moorhead cop killed 83 years ago remembered

GLYNDON, Minn. – Roger Quam never knew his uncle Roy, but to him the man is a hero.

Roy Larson was a Moorhead police officer shot and killed in the line of duty on Dec. 6, 1930, at the age of 28, the first Moorhead officer to be killed in action since 1888.

But his headstone, a simple gray slab located in a far corner of the modest Riverside Cemetery just north of here, does not denote that Larson was a police officer, nor does it say that he died in the line of duty.

That changed Saturday, when Quam and dozens of other family members, along with several law enforcement officers from around the region, gathered at Riverside Cemetery to honor Larson with a new headstone and a memorial service fit for a fallen officer.

His new gravestone now features the Moorhead Police logo and a Biblical Scripture that reads: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

For Quam, it was the perfect celebration to hold on Memorial Day weekend.

“Just like our war heroes, there are heroes locally that need to be celebrated,” Quam said. “They didn’t have anything here recognizing that (Roy) is a hero, and that’s important.”

Larson’s memorial service Saturday came about thanks to a few family members, like nephew Rick Larson, who wanted to ensure that future generations would know his uncle Roy died a hero.

Dakota Monument Co., in Fargo, donated the new headstone, which shone in the sun on Saturday afternoon next to the former tombstone, both flanked by old photos of Roy. His mother and father, Rick’s grandparents who were pioneer settlers in Clay County, are buried a few feet away.

A white stone obelisk memorializing three of Roy’s brothers and sisters, who died at very young ages in the early 1900s from diphtheria, also sits on the site. It was moved this year from the family’s former farmstead in Spring Prairie, where Roy and all 12 of his siblings were born, Rick said.

“We talk to our kids about him,” Rick said. “As the generations come and go, though, things kinda fade, so we’re trying to bring it back into focus.”

Following a speech from Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger, the Moorhead Honor Guard fired three volleys and the familiar melancholy melody of taps followed.

“Roy, we disturb your rest only to let you know that you’re not forgotten,” Ebinger said. “And that you never will be, so long as there are citizens who are willing to step forward and wear the badge of your department.”

Around 1,500 people attended Larson’s funeral in Moorhead several decades ago, according to old media reports. Larson was known as “Moorhead’s smiling cop,” and the police chief at the time called him “absolutely fearless.”

Roy was shot and killed by 29-year-old Raymond Liggett, who had just stuck up a grocery store in Fargo before making his way over to Moorhead. Liggett also shot and injured another officer in a downtown Moorhead shootout, according to Clay County historical documents.

Liggett eventually pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge and was sentenced to life at the state penitentiary. After being moved to the state hospital, he was paroled in 1969 at the age of 68.

On Saturday, Rick, a pastor at Dilworth Presbyterian Church, said he felt blessed that local law enforcement would hold such an event 80 years later, and he thanked the officers in attendance, which included representatives from the Minnesota State Patrol, Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Glyndon Police, Moorhead Police and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Rick said on that day 80-some years ago, Roy chose to run toward danger, not knowing if he was running to his death, as so many law enforcement officers do every day.

“He just knew there was danger, and he knew that he had to deal with it,” Rick said. “Rushing toward the danger is an instinct, a special gift that is unique to those who wear the uniform.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518