Reflections on a life of service, cut short

Laura Jean Schneider ljschneider@ptlleader.com
Posted 9/19/21


It seemed like a normal Saturday at home in Sequim on Sept. 4, where Joshua  “Josh” Atchison, Community Services Officer for the Port Townsend Police Department, and his …

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Reflections on a life of service, cut short



It seemed like a normal Saturday at home in Sequim on Sept. 4, where Joshua  “Josh” Atchison, Community Services Officer for the Port Townsend Police Department, and his wife, Kelli Holloway were getting ready for dinner. The 41-year-old told his wife he was going to lie down in the bedroom for a bit; moments  later, she heard a gunshot.

Dinner was on the stove. His glass of wine sat on the table.

Holloway was in shock. No one had seen this coming. There was no note, no will, no behaviors that would indicate that Atchison was struggling.

After being beside the love of her life for 19 years, Holloway was suddenly alone.


Lauren Ciarlo, Holloway’s 32-year-old daughter, rushed to the scene to find her mother in an acute state of shock and trauma.

“I don’t know if I can do this” ran through her head, but “nobody should be alone in this,” she said.

Atchison had been Ciarlo’s stepfather since he married Holloway in 2009.

The couple met in 2002 and began dating when she was a preteen. The three of them lived together through high school, and after college as well, intermittently. Sometimes Atchison’s young daughter from a previous relationship joined them.

“He held space, being my stepdad,” Ciarlo said. “He was always really sweet and supportive.”

She added that she appreciated how he’d given her the space to negotiate a relationship with a step-parent on her own terms.

Mostly, she mentioned just how much Atchison “got” her mom.

“They understood each other,” she said. “They’re very quirky people.”

“They were each other’s whole world,” Ciarlo added.

Troy Surber, who was previously interim police chief in Port Townsend and worked with Atchison before Chief Thomas Olson came on board May of 2021, agreed, telling Ciarlo, “I think I heard it at least once a week.”


The morning following Atchison’s death, Port Townsend Police Chief Olson issued a department-wide brief, and a city-wide message shortly after.

The chief had worked closely with Atchison, whom he described as “a very attention-to-detail, structured, organized person” in the Sept. 5 message. Atchison was thoughtful and full of institutional knowledge of the department after spending about four years there, the chief recalled.

Before being laid off due to COVID, Atchison had served as executive assistant to the chief.

He immediately impressed Olson, who re-hired him as the Community Services Officer on a full-time, temporary basis.

Atichson “was able to step in at a moment’s notice,” Olson said, and added that he worked above a level they could afford to pay him.

His loyalty made an impression on Sheriff Joe Nole of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, who had previously tried to hire Atchison as an executive assistant.

Atchison refused the offer, which came with a raise in pay.

“This is where he wanted to work,” Sheriff Nole told Chief Olson. “The Port Townsend Police Department is where he wanted to be.”


Ciarlo loved how her stepdad treated Holloway.

“His presence; the way he held her and made her feel safe,” she said. It meant everything to her mother, who struggled with trust.

“He just adored her,” she added.

The pair did everything together. Hunting for sea glass at North Beach. Traveling. Enjoying music. They were right in the midst of remodeling their house, and they’d sit side by side in their hot tub and feed the fish in the nearby fishpond.

“They had plans,” Ciarlo said.

They also had three pets, that Cialro said her mother refers to as “little furry children.”

Jackson, the couple’s dog, won’t leave Holloway’s side. The two cats are being looked after by neighbors in Sequim as Holloway finds support on Marrowstone Island with Ciarlo and her husband.


Atchison was the sole breadwinner for his family; Holloway is on permanent disability. Because of his temporary hire status, it’s yet unclear what benefits he was eligible for.

“Income – that’s safety,” Ciarlo said.

“[She’s] pretty much on her own,” she said of her mother.

Ciarlo has started a GoFundMe to help the family stabilize for the next six months. She estimates that it will cost $18,500 for living expenses for her mother alone over that time span. Ciarlo also noted that the police department has set up grief counseling for the department staff and has extended the offer to her family. 

A celebration of life will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 at John Wayne Marina in Sequim. All are welcome to attend and celebrate Joshua’s life.

For now, Ciarlo  is taking it a day at time with her mom, who is devastated.

“Her best friend is gone,” she said.


Ciarlo spoke fondly of Atchison, who would have turned 42 on Tuesday,
Sept. 7.

“I always saw him as a very kind, gentle person,” she said, and a man with a very unique sense of dark humor.

He adored his fur babies, and they reciprocated the love.

He loved the bass guitar,  kayaking, video games, and cooking.

Ciarlo says he even owned a copy of the “Enchanted Broccoli Forest” cookbook, which she adores. 

She hopes to use the volume to carry on his legacy in the kitchen, and beyond.

“He wanted to do good by everybody,” she said.


1 comment on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here

I often call out the phonies and selfish ones. I hope from time to time we all recognize those among us who are the opposite of that. This is the beginning of my last email to City Council.......

I met Joshua Atchison this morning. The new Community Services Officer. He was doing some parking enforcement and just being visible. He was very nice, as all PT police have been over the years......

I didn't see or talk to him again, but had the feeling that a good and honest person was in the mix.

Finding support or someone to talk to can be difficult for those doing police work. A close friend and early retired Sheriff's deputy has shared much with me regarding the realities and impacts of the job.

Support your police, God knows they support you and do what they can here in PT. Mental health services for all are lacking in most places.

Thanks for the conversation and connection that day Josh. It and you will always stay with me.

Wednesday, September 22