NANTICOKE — As hundreds of family, friends and corrections comrades gathered to lay to rest fallen federal corrections officer Eric Williams, the nation’s highest prosecutor vowed his killer would be brought to justice, and that Williams’ legacy would never be forgotten.
Williams, 34, of Nanticoke, allegedly was slain by an inmate while on duty Monday at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan in Wayne County. The FBI is investigating his homicide.
Speaking at Williams’ funeral at St. Faustina Kowalska Parish in Nanticoke on Saturday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Williams’ death “demands our unyielding resolve to do everything in our power … to hold the perpetrator of this terrible crime accountable.”
“This is our promise to you; this is my pledge to you,” Holder told Williams’ family and friends.
Holder offered sympathy on behalf of himself and President Barack Obama, who sent a letter of condolence that Holder read to the mourners. Williams’ example of service “is inspiring, and his story is one I will always carry with me,” Holder said.
“Earlier this week, correctional officer Eric Williams made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” said Holder. “I would like to offer my deepest sympathies and sincere condolences on behalf of a grateful nation.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Charles E. Samuels, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who said Williams “will forever be a hero in our agency,” and that his name would be inscribed in the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial in Washington D.C., and the Correctional Workers’ Memorial at the prison bureau headquarters, also in Washington.
“His loss will not be in vain,” Samuels said. “We’re going to do everything we can to bring the perpetrator to justice for this ruthless and senseless act.”
Williams’ funeral was marked by the ceremony and formality of his office. Hundreds of corrections and police officers packed the pews, aisles and entryways of the church during Williams’ burial Mass. They lined up to offer a final salute before his coffin, draped in an American flag, was carried by an honor guard of corrections officers from the church. As the funeral procession traveled to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Hanover Township, where Williams’ was interred, firefighters from the Nanticoke and Hanover Township draped a large “flag of honor” between two engines.
Williams’ burial Mass was co-celebrated by six priests and Bishop of Scranton Joseph Bambera, with the Rev. James Nash, of St. Faustina Kowalska Parish, presiding. Other celebrants included King’s College President Rev. John Ryan and Chaplain Rev. Thomas Looney. Williams graduated from King’s with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He also was a graduate of Lackawanna College’s police program.
But for all the ceremony marking his passing, those who knew him best remembered Williams as a simple man who loved to hunt and fish and who was excited about renovating a home he purchased two years ago on Lily Lake, Conyngham Township.
“Eric treasured his home,” said Lindsay Stackhouse, a longtime friend. “He was happiest dockside, or on the middle of the water on his own.”
Todd Hrivnak, who described himself as Williams’ best friend since childhood, remembered childhood football and soccer games with Williams that developed into a lasting friendship as adults. Williams was easy to be friends with, he said.
“I’m not surprised by everyone being here today,” said Hrivnak, a corrections officer at Luzerne County Correctional Facility. “Eric had a way of becoming friends with everyone; no matter if you knew him five minutes, it felt like you knew him for years.”
“I’d just like to thank God for allowing me to know Eric as long as I did,” he added.
Williams is survived by his parents, Donald and Jean Williams; brothers, Mark Williams and Kyle Williams; sister, Lauren Williams; maternal grandmother, Ann Swales; paternal grandmother, Sarah Williams; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.
A memorial scholarship fund for students pursuing a career in law enforcement has been established in Williams’ name. Those wishing to contribute should send donations to Eric Williams Scholarship Fund, c/o PNC Bank, 600 S. Market St., Nanticoke, PA 18634.