Penn State

Penn State dedicates plaque to slain wildlife officer

Two men met along a dark road.

David Grove, 31, a state conservation wildlife officer in Adams County, had pulled over a truck near the Gettsyburg National Military Park. He suspected its occupants had poached deer with a spotlight.

Christopher Johnson, 29, sat behind the wheel, packing a .45 caliber handgun. A felon prohibited from carrying a firearm, he vowed to his passenger not to return to prison.

Grove ordered Johnson to get out.

Two years ago, the night of Nov. 11 erupted. As he was handcuffed, Johnson pulled his gun, shooting 15 times during a fierce exchange of fire.

One bullet lodged in Johnson’s leg. One struck Grove in the neck, killing him.

Grove, a 2004 Penn State graduate from Fairfield in Adams County, became the first Pennsylvania game warden slain in the line of duty in 95 years. Johnson, convicted of first-degree murder earlier this month, was sentenced to death.

On Thursday at Penn State’s Forest Resources Building, Grove’s alma mater and fellow conservation wildlife officers honored him by dedicating the WCO David L. Grove Scholarship Fund and a memorial plaque.

The annual scholarship will benefit Penn State wildlife and fisheries science students. Nicholas Moore, a junior from Brockway, is the first recipient.

“This scholarship is a tangible reminder of David’s spirit and his passion for his work,” said Ellen Manno, an ecosystems science and management administrator and instructor, at the dedication ceremony.

The state Game Commission established the fund in cooperation with Grove’s family, the Conservation Officers of Pennsylvania Association and the Fraternal Order of Police Conservation Police Officers Lodge No. 114.

Colleen Shannon, a Game Commission land management officer, said the fund has collected almost $100,000 in donations, mostly from COPA and the FOP lodge. The commission has given about $17,500 so far from hunting and fishing license fees.

Shannon said Grove personified the dedication most conservation officers bring to their work.

“It’s more than a job,” she said. “We always say it’s a way of life. Certain people are taken by it, and David was one of them.”

Long before Grove graduated from the Game Commission’s conservation school in 2008, Kris Krebs appreciated his friend’s attitude.

Krebs, a conservation officer, on Thursday recalled spying a vacant truck near local woods, then seeing the owner approach carrying a shotgun.

Instead of looking wary, the young man grinned “from ear to ear.” He treated Krebs almost like a celebrity.

“I remember thinking, ‘What is wrong with this picture?’ “ Krebs said.

He and Grove, then at Penn State, became pals. When Grove served as a deputy wildlife conservation officer while still in school, he often shadowed Krebs on the job.

“His enthusiasm was contagious, and it infected all those around him,” Krebs said

Dana Grove said his son “wanted to make a difference,” enough to overcome a severe foot injury. A doctor advised finding a career that didn’t involve climbing hills and trooping through forests, but young David would have none of it.

“He set his sights on the Game Commission,” Dana Grove said. “It’s what he wanted to do.”

Moore, the scholarship recipient, can relate. He already holds a 2-year wildlife technology degree from Penn State DuBois, part of his drive to become a conservation officer and “give back” to the outdoors dear to his heart.

Grove’s murder reminded people of the risk game wardens face as armed law enforcement officers. But Moore said he’s not worried.

“I think if I’m doing what I love, helping to protect nature, then I’m comfortable with the danger,” he said. “Someone has to do the job.”