After 36 years, a Riverton police officer that was shot and killed while on a call will be honored with a permanent bronze plaque at the gazebo downtown.
In January 1976, 30-year-old Patrolman Thomas C. Whitelock answered a call with then-Patrolman Howard Norcross of the Palmyra Police Department. Reports said a mentally unstable individual was wielding a knife on Lippincott Drive in the borough.
On the scene, the patrolmen disabled the man, but as the handcuffs were being put on him, the individual wrestled Whitelock’s gun away from him. He shot Norcross in the stomach.
The individual then tried to shoot Norcross again but Whitelock went between the two men and was fatally shot in the back.
Norcross was then able to return fire to the individual who was also killed at the scene.
“By having a memorial in his name,” Riverton Police Chief John B. Shaw Jr. said, “in the center of town, it’s going to give residents an idea of the people who lived here and the people who worked here. Especially somebody like Whitelock who made the ultimate sacrifice and died in the line of duty helping the residents of this town.”
Family, friends and co-workers of Whitelock will be at the plaque unveiling ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday.
Law enforcement from throughout the county, and dignitaries from the state, county and local government, will also be on hand.
The Honor Guard, as well as a “Taps” bagpiper will also be there.
And Norcross, now a retired Palmyra Lieutenant, and a current member of town council there, will speak about the tragedy.
The events of that day in 1976 weren’t something Shaw, who grew up in Riverton, knew about in detail until he started with the department.
“It was brought to my attention that nothing was done,” he said. “As chief, I thought, ‘Let’s do something now. Let’s not waste any more time and give him the honor he deserves.’”
His first encounter knowing whom Whitelock was actually dates back to his elementary school days at the Riverton School. Each year, two graduating eighth-grade students receive the Thomas C. Whitelock award for safety.
Shaw received that award.
“I never heard of Thomas Whitelock or the events that occurred on that day,” Shaw said. “It wasn’t until I started working here in Riverton that I actually learned about it.”
There’s a small plaque in the foyer of the Riverton Police station with Whitelock’s name on it, but Shaw said up until now, that’s the only time people would have seen something in his honor.
Shaw, the Riverton Police Association and Riverton Council “picked it up and ran with it,” Shaw said after suggesting the memorial. After council members approved the plaque and its location, the police association started to solicit donations. Some even came as far as Bordentown.
American Stone, located in Palmyra, donated a granite piece that will cover the foundation, which the plaque will sit on.
Whitelock’s sister, who is flying in from Florida, will help unveil the plaque, Shaw said. Whitelock also had a daughter and a son, who was 15 months old when Whitelock was killed. Whitelock’s mother was a Riverton borough clerk for 36 years. She died a few years ago.
Shaw said Whitelock’s widow and daughter cannot make the event, but he sat down with the former and spoke with her for a few hours.
“It kind of hit home,” said the chief. “He was 30 years old. That’s close to my age. He had two kids, I have kids. It just makes you think.”
The ceremony starts at 10 a.m. at the gazebo on Broad and Main streets in Riverton. Parking will be available along Broad Street or near the Riverton River Line station.
A luncheon will be held after the event.