Rapid City mix-medium artist James Van Nuys is hard at work—shaping a memory of the lost officers.
The police department approached Van Nuys about six months after the shooting, and together they designed a sculpture to commemorate Ryan McCandless and Nick Armstrong.
More than 50 pounds of clay have already gone into the first soaring eagle. It's one of two birds in flight that will be a lasting memory of the officers who lost their lives on August 2, 2011.
"It's a difficult thing to memorialize, these two officers," Van Nuys said, but it's also an honor for the sculptor who began the project last October.
"At this point I am adding detail in clay, and there will be a mold made from this, and it will be cast in bronze," he said.
It will then be placed in Rapid City's Founder's Park. Police Chief Steve Allender says the memorial is meant to provide peace and comfort—not just for the family and friend of Nick Armstrong and Ryan McCandless, but for the hundreds of citizens in Rapid City and the surrounding area who have contributed to funding the project.
"We've put a lot of planning and thinking into how to memorialize Nick and Ryan, and this will make that complete," Allender said.
Completion of the project is compelling for Van Nuys because of its meaning to the community, and especially the families of the fallen heroes.
"I think one of the most gratifying things was when I first completed the model, and the two families really loved the idea," he said. "And at that point I felt like I was doing something that would be a healing thing for them."
It's also healing for a police force that has relied on its community to help them pick up the pieces.
"The community and local law enforcement were arm and arm throughout this thing, and it's the first time I've seen that type of connection throughout my career," Allender said.
Van Nuys says his goal is to finish the first eagle in about a month, when he can begin work on the second.
Each eagle has a wing span that's about 6.5 feet long. The entire project is scheduled to be complete by this time next year.