Liberty News

Student’s personal experience inspires event honoring fallen police officers

December 1, 2017 : By Will Young/Liberty University News Service

Liberty University junior Katherine Thacker was only 18 months old when her family received the news: her father, Brandon Thacker, would not be returning home from work — that day, or any other.

It shocked not only her family, but also their entire community when they learned that on April 16, 1998, Brandon Thacker, an investigator for the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, was shot and killed attempting to pull over an erratic driver while on an undercover assignment.

It was a seemingly routine assignment for Brandon Thacker, who had four years of experience as an ABC officer before the incident. The gunshots came suddenly, and he was hit with gunfire from the erratic driver while still driving his car alongside him.

Having lost her father at such a young age, Katherine Thacker only has videos and photos to remember him by, which she said she has revisited countless times.

“I just remember sitting down and watching those videos of us together at least 10 times a day as a child,” Katherine Thacker said. “I remember how not having him around when I was young caused some confusion. I would ask myself, ‘Do I even have a dad?’”

Katherine Thacker has long realized she is not the only one whose father or close family member has been killed while serving in law enforcement. In just the past year, from December 2016 to November 2017, 123 officers have been killed in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP).

In remembrance of her father and the thousands of other fallen police officers, Katherine Thacker hosted the second annual “Words of Worth” letter-writing campaign on Thursday night in partnership with Liberty’s Criminal Justice Club. Students and the general public were invited to write personal letters of condolences to the families and agencies of all 123 of the fallen police officers from the past year. Approximately 200 people showed up to the event and together wrote nearly 300 letters. The letters will be mailed along with Christmas tree ornaments.

“My hope is that the people who get these cards know that they’re not alone in what they’re going through,” said Tyler Schurr, president of the Criminal Justice Club. “We want to show how appreciative we are of what their loved ones have done.”

Participants were each given a specific fallen officer to write about and were encouraged to fill their letters with prayers, Bible verses, and other positive notes to comfort those deeply affected by the loss.

Katherine Thacker said she was inspired to start the campaign last year after looking back at all of the reflections and kind words of remembrance that people wrote about her father on the ODMP website shortly after his death. She noted how extremely grateful her family was to hear how loved and appreciated Brandon Thacker was in their community, and she wanted to replicate that feeling for other families.

“These letters are just our way of saying, ‘We love you, we’re here for you, and we’re remembering your loved one,’” Katherine Thacker said. “We want to make sure that they know Liberty hasn’t forgotten about them.”

Before the cards and pens were handed out at the event, two speakers shared their personal stories of loss. Liberty Assistant Professor of English Virginia Dow told the story of her brother who was killed in the line of duty while pursuing an armed criminal in the woods.

“It is so traumatic when someone is killed in the line of duty,” Dow told the crowd. “And when you write these cards . . . I want you to think about . . .  how their lives have been suddenly torn apart.”

Dow was followed by Virginia Beach Police Lieutenant Scott Humphrey, who serves on the board of directors for the ODMP. Having experienced the loss of his own friends on the force, Humphrey spoke on how the killing of law enforcement personnel can send shockwaves throughout the entire nation.

“If you’ve ever lived in a place where an officer has been killed in the line of duty, you see that it not only shatters the lives of the family and those who were close to the officer, but it also shatters the lives of the community and of officers across the country,” he said.

Katherine Thacker said she hopes to continue “Words of Worth” again next year and also to pursue other ways to show support to the families, including establishing a scholarship at Liberty for family members of fallen officers and raising awareness on May 15, Peace Officers Memorial Day.

“I hope that the students here will continue to have their eyes opened to what is happening in our country, and I really hope to build more respect [for] officers and what they’re sacrificing.”