In Bardstown, Residents Work to Keep Memory of Slain Officer Fresh in People's Minds

Sep 6, 2013

A poster in Bardstown remembering slain police officer Jason Ellis.
Credit Rick Howlett

It’s been just over three months since the ambush shooting death of Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis. The 33-year-old was attacked while on his way home from work on the Memorial Day weekend.

Police say they have not identified any suspects but continue to follow up on leads.  As the days pass without an arrest, many are working to keep the case fresh in people’s minds.

On a hot Saturday afternoon in late August, hundreds of motorcyclists gathered at the Jim Beam Distillery for food, drink and an auction. They were taking part in a poker run to raise money for the Jason Ellis Memorial Fund, established for the slain Bardstown officer’s wife and two sons, ages 6 and 7.

This event raised more than $32,000. Similar fundraisers have generated thousands more, some went to a reward fund set up to help find the officer’s killer or killers. It has grown to about $200,000.

Police believe the ambush of Officer Jason Ellis was carefully planned.

Early on May 25, the seven-year police veteran and K-9 handler had completed second shift and was heading to his home in rural Nelson County.

Ellis was hit with several shotgun blasts after getting out of his cruiser to remove tree limbs placed in the Bluegrass Parkway exit ramp. The cruiser’s emergency lights were on;  Ellis’ gun was holstered. The car was not equipped with a dash camera and Ellis didn’t tell the dispatcher he was stopping.

The investigation into Ellis’ death is being led by Kentucky State Police. Trooper Jeffrey Gregory says at least one detective is always on the case.

“That’s all he does, he looks at it from the time he comes to work to the time he leaves and I’m sure thinks about it when he’s sitting at home at night," said Gregory.

Police have said very little publicly about where the investigation has led them, other than it’s possible that more than one person carried out the attack.

Investigators have been combing through Ellis’ work on drug cases for possible leads. They’ve also pursued some threats made against the department that mention the shooting, but those don’t appear to be credible.  

For Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin, it’s a frustrating process, as most police homicides involve a known suspect.  

“Quite honestly I was probably frustrated the day it happened, but I understand, I’ve done this a long time, I want it done correctly," McCubbin said.

The murder has shocked and angered the community of about 12,000 in the heart of bourbon country, named last year by Rand McNally as the Most Beautiful Small Town in America.   

The outrage has given way to a huge outpouring of support. Thousands lined the streets for Ellis’ funeral procession. The city retired his K-9 partner, Figo, who now lives with the family.

Just a few days after the shooting, Ellis’ wife, Amy, held a press conference to express her gratitude and talk about her husband, whom she described as a devoted family man who loved his job.

“He is forever our hero.   He always made me feel that he was Superman,  that nothing would ever happen to him. He’s our hero,” she said.

Jason Ellis is also hailed as a hero by the people he served.    His photo is still a common sight on Bardstown storefronts, including Mammy’s Kitchen, a popular restaurant where Ellis was an occasional customer.

Few communities go unblemished by crime, but restaurant owner Christy Clark says people are taking this personally.

“It kind of drives you to keep finding that person and getting the answers, because it was such a senseless act and it was a horrific act,” she said.

Asked if he’s confident that there will be an arrest, Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin admits to some fleeting moments of doubt.

“You know, everyone asks me that question," McCubbin said with a sigh.   "Yes I am, but there’s always that fear, that gut-wrenching fear that there won’t be. I have faith that we will (capture those responsible).”

The investigation has received a boost from the FBI, which recently pledged up to $50,000 in reward money, and to use its resources to publicize the case nationally.