Remembering New Cumberland officer murdered 25 years ago
Editor's note: This article originally ran in The York Dispatch in August 2014, which was the 20th anniversary of the murder of New Cumberland Police Office Willis Cole. Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, is the 25th anniversary of Cole's death. The ages of the defendants have been updated.
Since 1995, Dale Rishal has been leaving town in anticipation of Aug. 19, closing his downtown New Cumberland coin shop and taking a respite from painful memories.
But on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, he chose to keep D&S Coins open.
It was 20 years ago on that date that New Cumberland Police Officer Willis Cole was murdered while responding to a robbery in progress at the coin shop.
"This is the first year I've worked on this day for the last 19 years," Rishal said. "I think of him every day."
Outside his Fourth Street coin store is a small lamp he keeps lit in dedication to the slain officer.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m. Aug. 19, 1994, Seifullah Abdul-Salaam and accomplice Lynwood Anderson walked into D&S Coins. Abdul-Salaam pointed a gun at Rishal, and the men used tape and an extension cord to tie him up.
After pushing him to the ground, Abdul-Salaam kicked the business owner. The accomplices ransacked and robbed the store, then fled.
That's when Cole appeared in the doorway, responding to a 911 call from a neighboring business.
Heard gunshots: Rishal later testified he was trying to cut tape from his feet or ankles when he heard five or six gunshots. He made his way to the door, where he found Cole lying in the street, he testified at trial.
Cole had arrested Anderson and was in the process of handcuffing him when Abdul-Salaam — who had run away — returned and fatally shot the officer in the chest. Both robbers escaped but were later captured.
"He was doing what he needed to do at the time," which was simply doing his job, New Cumberland Officer Brian Nailor said.
Rishal positively identified Abdul-Salaam as the gunman, helping Cumberland County prosecutors convict the man of first-degree murder.
Jurors sentenced him to death.
Abdul-Salaam, 48, formerly of Harrisburg, remains on death row at the Greene state prison. He so far has avoided execution.
"It is taking an awful long time," Nailor said of the appeals process.
Anderson, 51, also formerly of Harrisburg, was convicted of second-degree murder and remains at Smithfield state prison, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
York County resident: Called Will by his friends and family, Cole lived in Fairview Township.
About a month before the murder, Cole's only child turned 1 year old.
"He got to celebrate his son's first birthday," Nailor said. "We both became parents about the same time. We were just entering into a new adventure in life."
When Abdul-Salaam took Cole's life, he stole a father from a son, Nailor said.
Nailor was scheduled off the day Cole was killed, but he was called in after the shooting to begin building a case against the cop killers.
"It was very difficult," Nailor said. "He was a good friend of mine. ... We did a lot of things together outside the department."
'He did it right': Even two decades later, Cole is never far from Nailor's thoughts.
"He's always in the back of my mind," he said. "He loved his work. He did it well. ... He did it right."
Cole was level-headed and dedicated to his job and his family, according to his friend.
He loved baseball, golfing, hunting and the outdoors.
"Right now there are only two of us remaining (in the police department) who actually worked with him," Nailor said in 2014.
Cole graduated from Central Dauphin East High School in 1981 and was hired by the New Cumberland Police Department in May 1986, about a month before he graduated from HACC's municipal police officer certification course.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.