AUSTIN, Texas -- Through the silence of the sanctuary, the names of the fallen pierced the air.
One by one, friends and family of first responders and public servants who died in the line of duty stepped forth to receive a token of thanks from the State of Texas and a comforting embrace from its governor.
"Know they lived in the most noble fashion possible, placing the lives of others above their own safety," said Gov. Rick Perry to those gathered at the Shoreline Church in North Austin on Thursday morning. "The Texans we honor here today are the best our state has to offer."
Established in 2003 and expanded to include federal officers in 2007, the Star of Texas Award is presented by the governor to those killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. Among the 74 honored with this year's award was Jaime Zapata, a Homeland Security Investigations agent murdered by members of the Zetas drug cartel in 2011 after an ambush in the northern Mexican state of San Luis Potosi.
Five months after a massive memorial service in Waco which was attended by President Barack Obama, the twelve first responders who perished in the tragic fertilizer plant explosion in West were formally honored by the governor's office.
"There's been so much love for us, and for our town and for our guys. So it's overwhelming," said Alison Snokhous, whose husband Robert Snokhous and brother-in-law Doug Snokhous were killed in the April blast.
"They've always been heroes to me, so I was very proud," Snokhous told KVUE. "I'm very proud to get it from the governor, because we love the governor. But it's hard. It kind of rips the scab back off."
Receiving a special award Thursday morning were Kaufman County District Attorney Michael McLelland and his wife Cynthia, who were shot to death in their Forney home just two months after the murder of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse. Hasse was honored as well, along with the four Houston firefighters who died when a burning hotel collapsed in May.
After two surgeries to repair a severely broken leg during a foot chase, Ofc. Jared Ralston was one of three Austin police officers honored for suffering serious injuries while defending the public. Ralston told KVUE the injury was the worst he's ever experienced, and found strength during the recovery process from his family at home as well as his extended family at the Austin Police Department. Still, he said he doesn't consider himself a hero.
"I almost didn't feel like I deserved the award after hearing all of the family members that were accepting the award in place of the loved one that they lost, who payed the ultimate price and gave their life in the line of duty," Ralston said.
"They're the people we can always count on," said Perry. "And most importantly, they're Texans, and we take great pride in honoring them today."
A small token of overwhelming thanks.