[dropcap type=”2″]S[/dropcap]tephanie Sprague just observed a wedding anniversary without her husband. Jason Sprague was a Texarkana, Texas, Police Officer killed last year in the line of duty. Jason, 30, died June 15, 2013, the morning after he was fatally struck by a car while responding to a disturbance call at Grady T. Wallace Park. TXK Today talked with Stephanie recently, just a year after the death of her husband. We wanted to know how she’s coping; how her young son, Caden, is doing; and how one manages to live with such a tragedy.
Q: Tell us what happened to Jason, for those who don’t know. And tell us how it has affected you and your son’s life?
A: Jason was a patrol officer for six of the seven years we were married. He started work in Pine Bluff, Ark., and he had been working at Texarkana, Texas, Police Dept. for 18 months when he was killed. Jason worked night shift, and was called to respond to a large disturbance at Grady T. Wallace Park around midnight on June 14, 2013. When he arrived at the park, he began to try to disperse the crowd. “The rest of the story we have pieced together based upon witness accounts and dash-cam video. Apparently, an SUV was driving at a higher rate of speed, and against the flow of traffic, caught Jason’s attention. He attempted to verbally stop the vehicle. At that time, the vehicle attempted to flee the scene and struck Jason. The vehicle then left the scene of the crime. “At around 12:40 a.m., I received a knock on my door. I was instructed to come to the hospital, and when I arrived at the ambulance bay, I walked into an ER filled with officers, their families, and community leaders who were all there to support us and Jason. We spent 27 hours in the hospital where Jason fought for his life. However, in the early morning hours of June 15, Jason simply couldn’t fight any longer. “Telling him to ‘let go’ were some of the hardest words I have ever said; yet, because my love for him was so strong, I knew that he would never have wanted to live a life where he couldn’t return to being a patrol officer. Jason was born to be an officer, and he took his duties to heart. Letting him go was right by him. To be honest, the days, weeks, and months after Jason’s death are really all a blur to me. I describe it as being in a fog. I reacted, lived, and survived, but it took me a very long time to grasp what happened and how drastically different my life truly was. “Telling Caden that his Daddy was in heaven, was as equally difficult as letting Jason go. It seemed impossible and unfair that I was called to raise a young boy into a man on my own. Losing my husband was incredibly difficult, but losing my son’s father and seeing the hurt in Caden’s life on a daily basis, is indescribable.[quote_center]I never walk alone. We are blessed beyond measure with officers, their families, and community members who make sure that Caden and I live as normal of a life as possible.[/quote_center] Q: Do you feel supported by the Texarkana community?
A: “I never walk alone. We are blessed beyond measure with officers, their families, and community members who make sure that Caden and I live as normal of a life as possible. We still stand in awe at the amount of community support we have been shown and how the community continues to honor our hero. We had only lived here a year when Jason was killed; however, in the weeks after Jason’s death Texarkana became our home. We were and still are welcomed with open arms! I can’t imagine raising Caden anywhere else. It’s so important for me to ensure that Caden understands that his Daddy was willing to die for a greater good – the protection of society. “What better place to raise him than where the community appreciates our sacrifice as a family. Since Jason’s death, I have made it a goal to honor him by continuing to live my life. Caden and I take numerous trips, and focus on really living life to the fullest.
Q: Tell me about the organization that you started, “The Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line?”
A: “From the moment the officer knocked on our door, I felt an urge that a new calling was soon to be revealed in my life. Up until the knock on my door, I was a high school English teacher. However, in the first few months after Jason’s death, it became apparent that I was being called to fulfill a new calling in life. A few months after Jason’s death, I lay awake one night. One of the ways I dealt with Jason’s death was to ensure that his willingness to sacrifice was never in vain. As I pondered ways to ensure this, I felt the urge to begin a blog. And so, I began chronicling my thoughts, emotions, and experiences for others to read. I felt that our story had a greater purpose, and I had been so blessed, I should bless others in return. The blog then turned into the idea to form a community service and support group for officers’ families. Law Enforcement officers are provided hundreds of hours of training; however, their families are often left to figure out their roles on their own. It isn’t just an officer who makes sacrifices for public safety, his or her family makes them as well. “I felt that being a part of an officer’s family placed the members in a unique, social situation. Often times we are set apart by society because of our officer’s job. I formed The Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line to provide support and friendship to officers’ families. We began meeting in January of 2014, and since then the group has continued to grow. “Often, officers and their families are portrayed negatively or are subjected to many stereotypes. It is my hope that those who contribute to the negativity surrounding officers, will see these officers and their families giving back to the community, and we can slowly diminish the negativity. We want to help the community realize our officers are humans, too. They go home each night and read their babies bedtime stories, or fix the kitchen sink for their wives. They go home as a mother to a newborn baby who she left for a 12-hour shift so that she could help protect your baby. We hope to help humanize our heroes and help the public show their appreciation for our officers as well.
Q: Talk about the scholarship you set up in your husband’s name.
A: “As another way to give back to the community, which has given so much to me, I established the ‘Officer William Jason Sprague Memorial Scholarship’ at Texarkana College. The scholarship is awarded to a criminal justice major. The purpose of the scholarship is to invest in the future of Texarkana’s public servants. It is my hope that if we invest in their futures, they will choose to remain here upon graduation. An officer who protects his or her hometown might then feel more inclined to complete their entire career in the Texarkana area. This would create more veteran officers on the streets; therefore, assist in protecting the citizens of the greater Texarkana area.”
Q: What is the Texarkana Officers Down 5K, and why did you work to bring it to Texarkana?
A: “We needed to raise $25,000 for the scholarship to be endowed. In an effort to endow the scholarship as quickly as possible, I began researching fundraising opportunities. I came across the Officers Down 5K Foundation, and sent them a message inquiring about bringing the race to Texarkana. Since Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line isn’t a non-profit yet, and because we wanted to help raise national awareness of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice, we decided to partner with Officers Down 5K Foundation. Since deciding to partner with them, we have been working on generating community support for the race, but more importantly raising awareness of the officers who continue to protect our communities as well as those officers who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their community.
The evening before the race, on July 25, a $5 “carb dinner for the athletes” will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Truman Arnold Center. A silent auction will follow. All proceeds from the 5K will go toward the memorial scholarship fund and the Officer Down Memorial Page. http://www.odmp.org/ The ODMP is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring America’s fallen law enforcement heroes. The opening ceremony for the race starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, July 26, at Grady T. Wallace Park. The race fee is $30. Go to http://www.runsignup.com/tod5k to sign up. Pre-registration begins at 7 a.m. A police procession will kick off the race at 8:45 a.m. and the 5K will begin afterward. A fun run for kids will start at 9:30 a.m. The fee for children is $1. The goal is to have 500 people participate, and 350 people have signed up thus far.
Q: It’s been a year since your husband’s death. How are you holding up?
A: “I am constantly in awe at the blessings that are bestowed upon our family, as well as at how I have been chosen to help humanize our heroes. While I would give anything to have Jason back with us, I consider myself blessed to know that I am being called to ensure other officer’s families are never subjected to a knock on their door. My calling – to humanize our heroes and support their families – is my way of ensuring that Jason’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain, and that our communities never become “used to” an officer’s death. “I thought that my role was to always make him feel loved, always support him, always help him, and always be by his side. And for almost seven years, that was my role. Now, my role is even bigger. My way to continue the ‘always,’ is to be a voice for the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice, to rally the law enforcement officers’ community together and humanize our heroes, to raise a little boy into a man who understands the value of sacrifice and is willing to pay the true cost of it if need be. “I never thought my love ended with Jason’s death, but I struggled because so much of me was wrapped up in the idea of being his always. After he died, I felt imprisoned because I had no idea who I was. Tonight, I feel free. Free because no action I perform after his death changes my love for Jason. Nothing can lessen it, eradicate it, or diminish its purity. Instead, I get the rest of my lifetime to continue to work on the always. “Whether I remarry or not, move or stay, teach or not, none of those change my love for him. Instead, they just continue to prove it. I prove it by living. I prove it be striving to be a voice for the true cost of sacrifice. I prove it by starting an organization, and then they join in on proving it. We prove it by hosting a 5K, and by rallying a community together around the idea that our officers should be thanked, and that their humanity is our first priority. “A year ago, I would have never imagined the idea that together we could host such an event. I would have never thought we would be this far in humanizing our heroes, and demonstrating the true cost of sacrifice. But, here we are.”