He could bench press 400 pounds, by one account. He could remain calm amid a crisis and deal with adversity without uttering a harsh word about anyone.
Capitol Police officers Monday remembered fellow Officer Vernon J. Alston, who died Saturday after shoveling snow at home in Delaware, as a "gentle giant." Senate Leaders Remember Fallen Officer
They expressed shock that the physically fit 44-year-old died from a heart attack during the blizzard that dumped historic amounts of snow in the Washington region. And they recalled long nights and early mornings standing watch with him as he talked about his plans for his family.
"He was like this gentle giant,” Officer Scott McBane said. “He was a remarkable human being, and I don’t say that lightly."
McBane said he worked with Alston for three years at a post on First and C streets on a shift that started at 5 a.m. McBane said Alston changed his shift recently to start at 7 a.m., citing lack of sleep due to his hours-long commute to Delaware.
Alston was a 20-year veteran of the force who most recently worked in the House division. He last reported to work on Friday.
Jim Konczos, who heads the Capitol Police union, said he worked with Alston 15 years ago on the midnight shift at the Capitol. “You get in your head 'Well that’s not going to happen to me,'” Konczos said. “Forty-four is awfully young.”
Members of Congress, some of whom have a background in law enforcement, offered condolences.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a former Capitol Police officer himself, said in a statement that his thoughts were with Alston’s family during the difficult time.
“I am always grateful for the dedication and sacrifice of the Capitol Police force and Officer Alston was an exemplar of that,” Reid said.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement Alston “set an example of devotion and professionalism that we should all strive to follow.”
On Twitter, several members mourned Alston’s passing, including Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which overseas Capitol Police and Rep. David Reichert, R-Wa., a former sheriff.
The Capitol Police Board, made up of the House and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and the Architect of the Capitol, said in a statement Alston “dedicated his life to the U.S. Capitol Police and selflessly served the congressional community with honor and distinction.”
Officer Chris Ferguson, a 27-year veteran of the force who worked with Alston for 10 years, said they would often talk about their retirement plans and that Alston was a family-oriented man who often spoke of his teenage children and young son.
“It didn’t pan out for Vern,” Ferguson said. “I was in disbelief.”
Funeral arrangements for Alston have not yet been made.
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