The word “legacy” is often used to describe that which is passed on from generation to generation. Lin-Manuel Miranda captured the essence of the word when he wrote that a legacy is “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see”. The brave first responders who make the ultimate sacrifice for our safety never get to see what grows from the seeds they’ve planted; they do not get to witness their own legacy. We have the privilege of witnessing the children of fallen heroes carry out their mother’s and father’s legacy. For some, this is done by choosing to become first responders.
Firefighter/Paramedic Matt Morrison, Officer David Weinhold and Officer Joe Strehl chose to follow in each of their fathers’ footsteps and enter into public service. They knew firsthand the dedication, hard work and sacrifices of the job before even stepping foot into an academy. Just as their fathers before them, they eagerly commit their lives to protecting and serving the community.
On May 3, 2002, Capt. Robert Morrison of the St. Louis Fire Department sustained injuries attempting to rescue a fellow firefighter from a structure fire. He succumbed to his injuries the following day. This life-altering event is only a part of what his son, Firefighter/Paramedic Matt Morrison, recalls when reflecting on his father’s firefighting career. “I saw how much pride he and his coworkers had for their job, and the brotherhood that came with it.”
Capt. Morrison will never be forgotten for his bravery and sacrifice for the community. He left behind a wife and two children, Matt and Megan, who must live with the void of their father every day. That is where The BackStoppers steps in and gives the family hope for a brighter future after the unthinkable happens. The BackStoppers along with the first responder community showed a perspective to Matt that encouraged him to enter the emergency services field. “BackStoppers revealed a lot of traditions of the fire and police service to me that I had not seen prior to needing their help. Seeing this as a young child had a significant impact on my career choice. I want people to know that BackStoppers has assisted my family in many ways and continues to support us as they have done with over 160 families.”
Matt Morrison is now a firefighter/paramedic with Monarch Fire Protection District. When asked what he wished his legacy to be, he stated, “To be the best firefighter, husband and father that I can be”.
On October 31, 2000, Sgt. Richard Weinhold of the St. Louis County Police Dept. was shot and killed in the line of duty while attempting to evict a man from a residence. Sgt. Weinhold was leading officers up a flight of stairs when the suspect appeared at the top and fired a shotgun into the stairwell. His son, Officer David Weinhold recalls being inspired to become a police officer at a very young age thanks to his father’s respect and status on the force, “I always idolized my father for being a police officer. I vividly remember watching Saturday morning cartoons on Channel 11, and they did a special on the St. Louis County Police Academy. They interviewed my father as the recruits were doing physical training. I always thought that was so cool”.
Sgt. Weinhold was cherished by many police officers that had encountered him during his 20 years of service. He left behind a wife and four young children that cherished him as his brothers and sisters on the force did. David remembers the hurt and process of healing along with the support of BackStoppers and a refreshed drive to become a police officer. “When my father was killed it took me a couple of years to really process that. The initial response from The BackStoppers, the St. Louis County Police and the community really showed me how much people cared. I knew if I was given the chance, I wanted to give back to the people who helped my family through the tragedy. From day one, BackStoppers was there. They have been helping my family for 18 years now. If there is anything we need, we know that they will take care of us.”
Like his father before him, Officer Weinhold now serves with the St. Louis County Police Department. He is assigned to the Division of Patrol and is working in the 6th Precinct. Officer Weinhold says, “Every day I show up to work motivated. A day doesn’t go by when some officer, whether from my department or another, says something about my father. All I hear are positive things. Knowing the kind of officer he was makes me work harder and try to live up to his standards”.
When reflecting on what he wants his legacy to be, David poignantly states, “If I am lucky enough to work for this department for 20 plus years, I want people to remember me as a hard-working officer who made a difference each day. If after 20 years, I am remembered as ‘Rick’s Kid’ then I would be just fine with that”.
Almost 25 years ago, on November 19, 1993, Det. Stephen Strehl of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and Drug Enforcement Agency was killed in the line of duty in an aircraft accident. While conducting a drug surveillance mission, the helicopter in which he was riding crashed. He left behind his wife and three sons. His youngest son, Officer Joe Strehl, looks back on what moments led to wanting to pursue a career in law enforcement, “I’ve always wanted to be a police officer. My dream was only amplified when I went to college, took classes about policing, and rode along with officers. One event that solidified my passion was when I rode with the Metro Air Support Unit. Even though my family was terrified, I was excited and thrilled to go up with the guys. I even helped call out when a guy was hiding that had just stolen a car and run away from officers. From that ride-along alone, I knew this was the job for me”.
Detective Strehl dedicated his life to the service; his son is reminded every day of his father’s hard work and sacrifice. “I try to honor my dad every day when I go into work. When putting on the uniform, I do my best to honor my dad by being the best I can be and growing as a man and an officer.”
Joe recalls, “The BackStoppers was definitely a driving force behind my dreams of one day becoming a police officer like my dad. Attending the Annual Membership Dinner each year and having a Family Friend come to our house each Thanksgiving really showed me that this organization truly cares about the families of those who have died in the line of duty. To me, The BackStoppers is a second family and you only find this kind of bond in the public safety world”. When asked what he wished the public knew about BackStoppers, he replies, “I would want people to see firsthand the support they give to the families. If someone who knew nothing about the organization saw how they help the families who lose a loved one on duty, they would immediately realize how important BackStoppers is”.
Officer Strehl now serves with the St. Louis County Police Department and is assigned to the West County Precinct. “I want to be remembered as someone who treated everyone with dignity and respect, on- and off- duty. Along with making people laugh once in a while, too”.
We are very proud of the journeys of these three special individuals that we have known since childhood. The BackStoppers will continue to follow them and support them in their endeavors. Most importantly, we will continue to honor and never forget each of their father’s legacies.Read More
On November 5, 2008, Darnita Riggins’ world was turned upside down when her husband was killed in the line of duty. Capt. Leonard Riggins, Sr. of the St. Louis Fire Department was shot and killed when he stopped on his way home in uniform to assist a crashed vehicle. He turned on the emergency lights on his department vehicle, approached the site of the accident, and was shot by the occupant of the car. Darnita recalls the moments after the tragic event, “I know God loved me and I never questioned Him, but I just could not wrap my mind around Leonard’s death. I could not say his name without crying for years”.
Capt. Riggins lived his life helping others. After his passing, Darnita knew that she had to continue her husband’s mission. “Leonard’s life was a value and I knew if I didn’t want him to be forgotten I had to start a foundation to keep his memory alive. I wanted his legacy to live on through his family and friends that loved him dearly.” Thus began the S.A.I.L. Foundation, “Saving An Innocent Life”, whose mission is to stop teen violence through scholarships in honor of Capt. Riggins. “The Foundation is a passion and therapy at the same time; the loss and pain is so deep.” The Riggins family has always strived to make a difference in the community, and the S.A.I.L. Foundation has provided a way for the family to heal and give back.
All year round, fundraisers are held in the St. Louis area benefiting S.A.I.L.’s scholarship program. Basketball, bowling and skating tournaments draw attention to the mission and provide an opportunity for the community to come together and honor Capt. Riggins. The Back to School Giveaway program provides over 500 backpacks stuffed with supplies for kids gearing up for the new school year. During the holiday season, S.A.I.L. also collects toys and food for other community organizations. Through S.A.I.L., Darnita has shown incredible strength and grace, “I am so proud that Leonard’s legacy lives on through his Foundation. Giving back is so important because you never know when you will be blindsided and have the wind knocked out of you. I am a woman of strong faith”.
When reflecting on how BackStoppers helped Darnita and her family, she shares, “God had BackStoppers carry me through these 10 years! They are always right there when you need them, and the most unique thing people should know about BackStoppers is they are personal to each family. Every family’s need is different and, for my family, my journey could have never been met without them. When I open and close my day with prayer, I always say, ‘Thank you God for BackStoppers’. My Len is not here but they have been a filler for my son and me. BackStoppers committed to be here for the long hall, and I’m here to say they have kept their word”.Read More
We would like to recognize and extend a huge thank you to TheNemesis FightingAlliance for their efforts in raising nearly $3,500 during their No One Fights Alone Event benefitting The BackStoppers Inc.! Thank you to all those that made this event possible. Thank you for your dedication to our mission of assisting families of fallen first responders.
Metro West Firefighters continue to remember and honor Chief Jim Silvernail who passed away on April 25, 2018. In his honor the Firefighters have created a helmet and window decal that display each of the departments with which Chief Silvernail served; Creve Coeur Fire Protection District, Metro West Fire Protection District, and Mehlville Fire Protection District. The proceeds of the decals will benefit BackStoppers.
Chief Silvernail served on the BackStoppers Board of Directors, as a Family Friend volunteer, and as an Event Representative. His commitment to the mission of BackStoppers will forever be imbedded in our hearts. His legacy will forever live on in our organization, the lives of those we help, and the community. We are eternally grateful for his service. His zeal, kindness, and heart will never be forgotten and will continue to be a part of the work we do. Our thoughts and prayers are with Chief Silvernail’s family and everyone whose life he touched as a firefighter, Fire Chief, BackStoppers supporter, and friend.
To Purchase The Decal Please Click HereRead More
We honor and remember Fire Chief (Ret.) Jim Silvernail and his remarkable dedication to the families we serve. Chief Silvernail served on the BackStoppers Board of Directors, as a Family Friend, and as an Event Representative. His commitment to the mission of BackStoppers will forever be imbedded in our hearts. His legacy will forever live on in our organization, the lives of those we help, and the community. We are eternally grateful for his service. His zeal, kindness, and heart will never be forgotten and will continue to be a part of the work we do. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Silvernail family.
Our little friends at Kiddie Academy in O’Fallon made a big difference when they presented BackStoppers with a check of $1,000 from their Student Art Show. We were honored to accept this generous donation. We would like to thank the staff at Kiddie Academy for their diligent and hard work that went into the Art Show, the parents of the students for giving so generously toward our mission and the students who created the art to support our community. A special thanks to the Wentzville Fire Department and O’Fallon Police Department for taking the time to brighten the students’ day!
We could not do what we do without the continued support from the community. Every single donation is a vital part of carrying out our mission of assisting families of fallen first responders. To learn more about how you can make a difference visit: http://backstoppers.org/Read More
Guns ‘N Hoses has once again broken a record in their 31-year history, raising $700,000 for BackStoppers! Since 1987, Budweiser Guns ‘N Hoses has contributed $6.8 million to the BackStoppers mission. These staggering numbers are not possible without the help and dedication of those that work all year round to make this event such a success. The Guns ‘N Hoses committee who organizes the event every year, the first responders that take the time and dedication to train and compete, the sponsors that give so generously to support the work of our mission, and the volunteers that give hours of hard work are all part of what makes this Thanksgiving Eve tradition so special.
These funds will provide assistance to the approximately 80 families with 65 dependent children we currently assist. The love and support from the community shows through this incredible commitment to our mission of helping families of first responders when tragedy strikes.
Our most sincere thanks to every single person who made this possible. Guns ‘N Hoses, we’re excited for what the 32nd Annual Event has in store. Thank you for 30th years of legendary support!Read More
The Spirit of St. Louis Campaign has officially concluded with a lucky winner! Since November, the community has come together in the spirit of giving and has supported the mission of BackStoppers, Variety the Children’s Charity, and St. Louis Area Foodbank. A $10 donation to any of the three charities was entered into a drawing to win a car, truck or SUV.
The total amount raised was over $170,000 including a generous donation from Bommarito Automotive Group of $50,000! The winner was Jason Woodworth, which was announced during the St. Louis Auto Show.
We would like to thank Fox 2 and KPLR 11 and Bommarito Automotive Group for their generosity and commitment to the community. We are incredibly grateful for everyone that donated to BackStoppers in the spirit of giving, community, and St. Louis.Read More
Like many kids, Cole Ziegler, son of fallen hero Deputy Sheriff Steven Ziegler, EOW 09/30/01, dreamed of playing football. He has loved the sport since he was old enough to catch a football, and attended every high school game he could while in grade school. In fact, as soon as Cole’s parents, Racheal and Steven, found out they were having a boy, Steven ran out and bought a football. In hindsight, it was the perfect purchase.
Cole, who just finished his junior season, is currently a star wide receiver and defensive back for the North County High School Raiders. Cole, who also plays baseball and runs track, has already been selected for the Raider Hall of Fame. The Raiders had their best season in many years and finished 9-3. On playing the sport, Cole says, “Football has given me an opportunity to form a brotherhood with my teammates. We truly are a family. Football has given me structure. It has taught me to be more responsible. You give 110% every time you’re on that field, practice or game time”. Cole hopes to continue playing football at the collegiate level.
Cole wears the same number that his father wore: 24. Football is not the only passion he shares with his late father. Cole hopes to pursue a career in law enforcement. Upon completion of his bachelor’s degree, he plans to apply for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Cole’s mom, Racheal, is also a big fan of the sport. They watch games together every Sunday. Like many parents, Racheal was a little apprehensive when she heard Cole wanted to play football. She describes how she dealt with that by saying, “I just say a little prayer before every game. I see how much he loves this sport. Watching him on that field, it’s magical. He amazes me every time I watch him play. Every time that boy makes a touchdown, I know his dad is right there with him smiling from ear to ear”.
When sharing her thoughts on The BackStoppers, Racheal said, “We lost so much when Steve was taken from us. Cole was 18 months old and Madison was three and a half years old. The BackStoppers have been our guardian angels. They have never left our side. I give them credit for Cole being able to play this sport he loves. He is able to attend camps and have all the necessary equipment he needs all thanks to The BackStoppers. I don’t know what the kids and I would have done without our angels. They are our extended family”.Read More
You met Whitney Neal, daughter of St. Louis County Police Detective Willie Neal, Jr., EOW 1/29/97, last year. When Whitney was featured in the June 2016 issue of The BackStoppers newsletter, she was enrolled in a competitive Pathologists’ Assistant program and looking ahead to her dream career. Since then, Whitney has completed the program, passed the certification exam, acquired a job at a hospital, and already been promoted to a lead position. She’s very happy in her new fulfilling career, learning while teaching and making a difference in patients’ lives.
Now a Certified Pathologists’ Assistant, Whitney works at a large hospital that she says “offers a nice variety of things to do. I perform autopsies, help run brain conferences, and do gross dissections and dictations on a large variety of cases, some of which can be very complicated”. As she planned while studying in the program, she now works directly with Pathologists’ Assistant students. “So, I am learning a lot while teaching,” she says.
Whitney is also helping a lot. By helping Pathologists reach a diagnosis, she’s also helping clinicians to decide the best treatment options, which leads to the best overall patient care. “It feels good to know that you are making a difference in patients’ and their families’ lives, even if it isn’t as direct as other medical professionals. I enjoy being in the background because helping patients isn’t about the recognition for me,” she says, “I just enjoy knowing that I played a role”.
Things are moving quickly for Whitney, and she continues to push toward her goal of becoming an Assistant Director of a Pathologists’ Assistant program who is able to continue practicing as a Pathologists’ Assistant. Great dedication is required to be accepted into the selective program, graduate, and move into such a challenging career. Whitney has shown that dedication, and, thanks to her hard work, is now fulfilling her dream. “I’m really happy to have accomplished this goal that I set for myself, and to have passed my certification exam. It really makes all the hard work worth it.”
We’re honored to help children of fallen heroes turn their dreams into a reality. Whitney tells us, “I would not be where I am without all the support from this amazing organization. The BackStoppers has helped make this dream possible.” Our Education Fund ensures that children of fallen first responders will have access to financial resources to pursue elementary, secondary, or post-secondary educational opportunities. Find out more at BackStoppers.org.