314.692.0200 | 866.539.0521
backstoppers [at] backstoppers.org

South County Tech Leaves It All on the Field

Students at South County Tech showed heart and dedication to the mission of BackStoppers last December. Law Enforcement students approached their instructor, Sue Gibbons, about creating an event inspired by the famous Budweiser Guns ‘N Hoses. The Law Enforcement students joined forces with the Firefighting/EMT students and organized a flag football tournament between the two classes.

Together, the students did all the heavy lifting; measuring and prepping the field and completing everything necessary for a successful event. South County Tech staff and faculty got in on the action by making a customized trophy for the winning team, collecting ticket sales and generating hype for the big game. In the end, the Firefighting/EMT students took the win with a final score of 12 to 6.

Both Law Enforcement and Firefighting/EMT students won in the spirit of giving when they raised over $300 for BackStoppers! Chief Jim Silvernail met with the students for the check presentation and expressed how challenging but rewarding it is pursuing a career in emergency services. He also explained how their hard work raising $300 for BackStoppers helps provide financial assistance for textbooks, medications and co-pays.

Thank you to the Law Enforcement and Firefighting/EMT students for your diligence and commitment to our mission, to Instructor Sue Gibbons for encouraging the students to pursue this task and to the faculty and staff of South County Tech that supported this event. We could not do what we do without this kind of dedication to the families of fallen first responders. Thank you!

*The South County Tech Flag Football check presentation was held at the beginning of March. This was one of the last check presentations that Chief Silvernail attended. We miss him greatly.

Read More

Spotlight Supporters: Warren County

The BackStoppers serves 18 counties in Missouri and Illinois. Because the region served by BackStoppers extends beyond St. Louis, we rely on groups of supporters who volunteer their time to help raise awareness of and funds for our mission in the outlying counties of our coverage area. These groups, called Outlying County Supporter Groups, are integral to the growth of our cause. We are honored to share with you the efforts of the Warren County supporter group.

Eight years ago, a dedicated group of individuals from Warren County decided to make a difference. The mission of BackStoppers hit close to home for Warren County when Officer Vernon Seals, EOW 10/6/02, was killed in the line of duty. Tragically, since then two more Warren County first responders made the ultimate sacrifice: Deputy Sheriff Lonnie Cole, EOW 10/2/03, and Chief Paul Fricke, EOW 8/27/10. Community leaders, first responders and civilians residing in Warren County felt moved to support the work of BackStoppers and came together to form Warren County BackStoppers.

Every February, the Warren County BackStoppers organizes a Dinner, Dance and Auction event that draws a great crowd and brings in a generous amount of support. This annual event features a premium silent auction, performances by the St. Louis County Pipes and Drums Troupe and a unique way of honoring Warren County’s three fallen heroes. During the event, oil paintings depicting each of the three fallen heroes are displayed as a poignant reminder of why guests, supporters and volunteers are there.

A lot of preparation and work goes into making this event such a success. Months ahead, the Warren County committee holds meetings, gathers donations and spreads the word. On the day of the event, the committee, along with 40 additional volunteers, works diligently to make the evening run smoothly. The dedication and hard work has paid off in a big way; the 2018 event raised $80,000, and the total raised over their eight-year history exceeds $500,000 for BackStoppers! This support is truly extraordinary.

BackStoppers Advisory Board Member Chief Jeff Backhaus of Marthasville Vol. Fire Department shares what BackStoppers means to Warren County, “We all realize someday it could be one of us or our family that needs to benefit from this organization and we know that they will be taken care of”. The amount of support that Warren County brings to our mission is very much appreciated. BackStoppers Executive Director Chief Ron Battelle shares, “We are extremely grateful for the incredible support and dedication to our fallen heroes that this group has displayed. Thank you, Warren County!”

We greatly appreciate the Warren County BackStoppers and the Outlying County Supporter Groups. The support of these friends of BackStoppers helps us to carry out our mission of serving families of fallen first responders.

Read More

Legacies in the Making

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

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”.

Officer David Weinhold

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”.

Officer Joe Strehl

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

Setting S.A.I.L. For Service

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