More than 3,500 people mourn the death of fallen prison guard
Corrections officers, emergency responders and state officials were at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown on Wednesday to remember the life of Mark J. Baserman, a corrections officer who was assaulted by an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset and later died.
“None of us could have anticipated us gathering here to honor and pay our final respects to our friend and colleague, Sgt. Mark Baserman,” said the Rev. Ulrich Klemm, who led the call to order. “The tragic events that unfolded on Feb. 15 are deeply ingrained in our hearts and our memories. Those of us in the law enforcement community know too well the unpredictability of violent human behavior. That Sgt. Baserman was not able to recover from his injuries breaks all of our hearts.”
More than 15 states were represented at the event, along with the District of Columbia and Canada. An estimated 3,500 people attended.
Baserman, of Johnstown, died on Feb. 26, 11 days after he was assaulted by 22-year-old Paul Jawon Kendrick, of Pittsburgh, inside the medium-security state prison, according to state police. Kendrick was serving a life sentence for the 2014 shooting death of a 21-year-old man because the man was playing basketball in his neighborhood, according to published reports.
Following Klemm’s speech, Capt. Jack Seanor gave a radio check in which he announced the name of various officers before reaching Baserman’s name, to which there was no response. The Rev. Phil Maust, the chaplain at the prison, spoke after that.
“Feb. 26 was an awful day,” Maust said. “We grieve together and we join together.”
Brian James, from the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation, read a poem called “Meeting Thy God.”
Larry Blackwell, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, told the audience that many of the people in attendance understood what it meant to be a corrections officer. He said they walk the toughest walks in the state with a radio, whistle, handcuffs and pepper spray. Baserman wore many hats in life, Blackwell said. He worked as an EMT, was a caretaker for his wife and mother, and served in the Army.
“Mark’s life was a gift of service to others, at work, as a corrections officer,” Blackwell said. “Mark always put other people’s needs before his own. Even when it required personal risk. We honor him today as a hero. A hero is someone who faces danger, has integrity, bravery and strength. That’s what law enforcement officers do every day.”
Maust spoke on behalf of Baserman’s family, who issued a statement through him.
“To those first responders who held his hand, we will consider you correctly our angel,” Maust said. “To our new DOC family, the night of Feb. 15, 2018, will forever change our lives. This was the beginning of the end of Mark’s life. However, it was the beginning of a new life with our new family. As I sat in Johnstown’s hospital, I was told by complete strangers they would be there no matter what.”
Melissa Hainsworth, superintendent of SCI-Somerset, spoke after Maust.
“I must first recognize the life of a corrections officer,” she said. “Corrections is a difficult and demanding profession. They have long hours with a constant risk of danger and harm. Their jobs are not just to confine and provide for those who have broken the law, but to treat and reform them in an effort to prepare them for their return to society. A corrections officer cannot fear danger.”
“Sgt. Mark Baserman was the epitome of a successful corrections officer,” she said.
While much of the ceremony featured speakers who were associated with the prison system, other people from different lines of work, including medical care, were on the slate as well. Paul Bomboy, a paramedic who knew Baserman, praised the late man for his service to his fellow man.
“Mark dedicated his life to serving other people,” Bomboy said. “He served his country as a member of the United States Army. He cared for sick and injured people as an EMT. He protected the commonwealth from the worst of society as a correctional officer.”
John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, told the audience that the country had a sacred covenant with its guardians, many of whom were in the room listening to him.
“We’re all saddened and shaken to our core that this tragedy occurred, that this hero died for no reason,” Wetzel said. “When I say no reason, I say it because it’s causeless. But what he stood for is a life of service: service to this country, service to his community, service to the commonwealth. Every citizen in this commonwealth benefited from this man’s heroic service.”
Baserman joined the Department of Corrections in 2007. He had been employed at SCI-Somerset since 2012 and was promoted to sergeant in 2016.
“One of the things about corrections that people don’t understand is that we’re forced and asked to deal with the worst that humanity has to offer,” Wetzel said. “The worst side of humanity. And in response to that, we show America our best.”
Officials at UPJ were praised for letting the officers use the sports complex on campus. There will also be a scholarship set up in Baserman’s name for the university.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who was scheduled to speak but missed the ceremony because of the weather, issued a statement about Baserman.
“Sergeant Mark Baserman, in doing his duty to our state prison system – just as he willingly served in the U.S. Army and committed himself as an emergency medical technician – made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of keeping others safe,” Wolf said. “There are not enough words to honor his life, his sacrifice and his service to his fellow citizens.”