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
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
This fall, Dr. Adam Snyder organized a golf tournament honoring the memory of his younger brother, fallen hero Officer Blake Snyder. Dedicated friends Pat and Kim Lawrence, Wesley Strowmatt, and Toby Henesey made up the organizing committee, and the event was a fantastic success. Held on September 22, 2017 at Rolling Hills Golf Course in Godfrey, IL, the tournament raised over $40,000!
“This was truly Adam’s labor of love supported by long-time friends,” said Dick Snyder, father of Officer Snyder.
BackStoppers Executive Director Chief Ron Battelle and Board member Chief Jim Silvernail joined the committee and members of the Snyder family for the check presentation and expressed gratitude for this wonderful support.
We are very grateful for everyone who gave their time to make this event possible, and everyone who attended and enjoyed the tournament. Thank you for helping to make our mission possible!
Watch for next year’s tournament by following our Events Calendar.Read More
Today is the nine-year anniversary of the death of Sgt. Jeffry Kowalski of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, EOW 10/01/08. His daughter, Madison, shares her father’s legacy and how she finds strength after the unimaginable.
“It’s going on 10 years now. A decade. Think of all the milestones and memories you gather during 10 years. You graduate high school, then college, start your adult job, have your own place, meet the man you love and start your life. 10 years of moments filled without the person you love most and who created you– the person who made the absolute best of you, the one who never doubted if you had fallen but instead gave you the strength to get back up, the person you loved more than yourself. My father, Sgt. Jeffry Kowalski (SLMPD) died almost 10 years ago, but it still feels like he was here yesterday.
I think the biggest reason this void in my life hasn’t been as difficult as others is solely because of the support given through The BackStoppers. They have given me the unwavering support and love I know my father would have given. They displayed loyalty and faith in not only our family but the future success that they knew we could achieve. The BackStoppers supported us and opened their arms before anyone else with no questions asked.
They knew my father’s case was special but realized he died over and over again for the people of Saint Louis when he could have easily walked away. Much like The BackStoppers, my father continued to do what was right with just knowing that the greater good was at stake. The BackStoppers gave us hope for the future and humanity through their numerous acts of kindness. Due to this, I often find myself overwhelmed with gratitude and the sense of wanting to give back to each and every person who donated to this elite organization. Each one of you is the reason I am still standing today, and I can’t thank you enough for supporting not just my family but every surviving family that The BackStoppers supports. Thank you, a million times, over. -With the most humility -Madison A Kowalski”
The BackStoppers currently assists 82 families with 66 dependent children and has supported 161 families since 1959. Our assistance is immediate and ongoing. The BackStoppers’ mission is to financially assist the families of first responders who die in the line of duty by paying off all debt, assuming financial obligations such as mortgage payments, taxes, providing health and dental insurance, and helping with the costs of elementary, secondary, and college/vocational education. Memberships fund our ongoing assistance and provide you with an easy way to support and grow The BackStoppers. To learn more about becoming a BackStopper please visit http://BackStoppers.org/membership/Read More
Elizabeth Snyder and her family are starting a new chapter of life accompanied with challenges and change. Courageously she remains to shine a light and honor her husband, Officer Blake Snyder of the St. Louis County Police Department, EOW 10/06/2016. Months have passed since Blake Snyder was killed in the line of duty, but Elizabeth and her son Malachi strive to be a voice in the community, and hope for a brighter future.
Being a mother of a young son, Elizabeth beams at her son’s growth, and shares how Malachi remembers his father, “He’s a very happy little boy and seems to mature more each day. He misses his daddy, though. We talk about Blake often and I am constantly reminding him of who his father was and what he has done for all of us. Malachi definitely remembers him but knows something ‘not right’ has happened”. Along with parenting, Elizabeth has moved to a new home with Malachi, and has also gained a new family member, Hank.
“Hank, the new puppy, is awesome,” Elizabeth gushes. “He’s a wonderful puppy and oh so good with Chi. He loves him and is constantly playing him with. He’s growing so fast, and has almost tripled in size since coming home with us”. Relocating to a new place, Elizabeth explains how the transition has helped her family, “We love our new home! We are very pleased and ever grateful for the relocation and the house. Living near my brother and Malachi’s cousins has been very good for the both of us. It has been so important for us to be near family in the last seven months”.
Many experiences and opportunities have presented themselves to Elizabeth. Perhaps one of the greatest experiences was a visit to Washington D.C. in February to hear the President speak. Elizabeth was accompanied by her brother, Officer Justin Sparks with the St. Louis County Police Department. “Our trip to Washington D.C. was, in a word, surreal. It was something out of the movies. We were honored and excited to be guests of Rodney Davis and Ann Wagner. While there, we were able to visit the White House as well as meet Vice President Pence. He was a very genuine and heartwarming man. I could tell that he truly cared about what happened to Blake and seems to want to make a true difference in our nation. I was in awe watching President Trump give his address. I felt humbled to be in a place where so much history was contained. President Trump’s speech was thrilling and offered a gesture of hope for our first responders. I am truly grateful to have had such an experience”.
Making a change and shining a light on law enforcement has been in sight for Elizabeth, and she is determined to continue to have her voice and story heard. “I will continue to advocate for law enforcement and for all of our first responders, in any way that I can. I will use what resources I have to help those who do not have a voice”. When asked about any future endeavors Elizabeth continues, “I also plan to write a book detailing my journey. I hope that what I write can be a beacon to others in my own or a similar situation, while also shedding light on the plights that our officers face each day”.
Through the pain and trials of this new life, Elizabeth professes to always have hope and faith. “There is always hope. There is always another day, and there is always someone out there who cares. Whether you are going through depression, a divorce, financial issues, or even a death – there is ALWAYS hope. I’ve lost my best friend, my husband. I’ve been persecuted, called names and have been told what to do. But I have held onto my faith, my God, our son, and my family. They are my hope”.
The community has embraced Elizabeth and her family in an incredible way by showing support and love. The overwhelming response has left the Snyders in a state of gratitude. “To our community – thank you. Our world was tossed upside down in an instant, and our community was there every step of the way. We are so thankful to have such amazing citizens supporting us and supporting our law enforcement. I will forever love my St. Louis community. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
The BackStoppers helps many families who like, Elizabeth and Malachi, have been affected by tragedy. By providing a way to a new beginning, and remembering the ultimate sacrifice of the hero that they have lost. Speaking of The BackStoppers, Elizabeth says, “BackStoppers is an absolutely amazing organization. They are truly guardian angels. What they do for families of the fallen is beyond wonderful and I hope the community knows that. Each individual from The BackStoppers has a heart of gold, and we couldn’t be more thankful for them”.Read More
Jeremy Branson, the son of fallen hero, Officer James Branson, Jr., EOW 3/9/03, is about to start his senior year at Saint Louis University. Jeremy is majoring in Psychology with a minor in African Studies and pre-law. Upon graduation, he plans to attend the Howard University School of Law. Jeremy recently went on an eye-opening tour over spring break. When we picture a college spring break, most of us think of a non-stop party. Jeremy and some fellow students spent their break in a much different manner.
Every year since 2015, students at Saint Louis University are invited to embark upon an incredible journey. Over spring break, students travel to various landmarks that were instrumental in the modern civil rights movement. The group visited 14 of these historic locations, including the National Civil Rights Museum, the Rosa Parks Museum, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Slavery Museum.
When asked to describe the trip, Jeremy said, “The experience was a great opportunity for me to learn, grow, and understand the history that shaped the lives of African Americans today. From the moment I left the campus of Saint Louis University, I was filled with joy and aspiration. The trip attendees were very diverse, so I got a chance to see how my history is appreciated from those who do not look like me.”
Speaking about the most memorable part of the tour, Jeremy says, “The trip was full of surprises, and in Selma was probably where I had the most fun, where we did a slave simulation taking us from the coast of Africa down the middle passage to the West Indies and Virginia. The students had no idea that this was going to happen, and it was very hands on. When we arrived at the facility, our tour guide began yelling at us, ‘Line up! Men on the right side and women on the left!’ We were treated as if we were slaves. The feelings of hopelessness and uncertainty that overtook me was sobering. Even as a simulation that I knew was staged, it still resonated deeply with me. I began to empathize and sympathize, and I became pensive when I thought of how much harsher this was for my ancestors. The spontaneity of this experience took me to a place mentally that I greatly appreciated. Besides not being dressed as such, I did feel, slightly, the mental state of a slave. The experience gave me all I was hoping for and more”.
The fight for equality is something Jeremy plans to continue to champion on the SLU campus. Jeremy will serve as the President of the African American Society at SLU for the 2017/2018 school year. He plans “to be an activist while learning about others and their struggles”.
When asked what he wished people knew about The BackStoppers, Jeremy told us, “This organization has been very key in my life. From the fall of my father, you guys stepped in and made sure that my mother, my siblings, and I were well taken care of. I cannot thank you enough for your recognition of us and my father. This organization thrives on donations from individuals who care and who understand. I appreciate that my dad’s legacy lives on considering everything that BackStoppers does. He will truly never be forgotten, and I will do everything I can to make sure that I do my part in The BackStoppers organization”.
We would like to greatly thank Jeremy for sharing his experiences with us! Good luck with all your future endeavors. We are so proud of all you have accomplished and look forward to all your future holds.
The BackStoppers Education Fund ensures that children of fallen first responders will have access to financial resources to pursue educational opportunities, making experiences such as Jeremy Branson’s at St. Louis University possible. We have made a commitment on behalf of the entire community to provide for the future security and education of the families we serve.
Ralph Tatoian, Jr. has started his journey of service by recently graduating Basic Training at, “Sand Hill” Fort Benning, Georgia. He is continuing to display the bravery and courage shown by his father, Trooper Ralph Tatoian of Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop C, EOW 4/20/2005. A life of serving and protecting this community and the nation is a legacy that Ralph has decided to carry on.
Through the incredible challenges of Basic Training, Ralph has been able to successfully complete this chapter of his military career. Graduating at Fort Benning with the Alpha Company 2nd Battalion 3rd Infantry Regiment, Ralph reflects on the last few months and graduating, “It was probably the proudest I have been in my life. After Basic Training, there is a large mixture of pride in what you accomplished mixed with relief that you don’t have to be there anymore.”
Currently, Ralph is advancing in his career at Fort Meyer in Arlington, Virginia where he is continuing his job training as a U.S. Army Infantryman in the Hotel Company, 1st Battalion 3rd Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard”. This new chapter has proven to bring new trials and emotions. As Ralph says, “It’s a mixture of feelings. Every morning it’s a struggle to drag myself out of bed early, but when I go out and help render final respects to those we bury, or when I’m out training as an infantryman, I feel very proud to know I get to put on my uniform and go out and do my job like my father did as a Trooper”.
The future holds promise for Ralph. When his initial contract is complete, he plans on coming back to Missouri to re-enlist in the Missouri National Guard. From one generation to the next, he also has a dream of pursuing a career in law enforcement. Along with his military and law enforcement career plans, Ralph also displays an interest in music. Leading a legacy of honor and strength has been demonstrated by Ralph, and his commitment to his country and community is evident.
Remembering the time in Ralph’s life when his father was killed in the line of duty, he recalls The BackStoppers being there for him and his family. “To me, BackStoppers is probably the most comforting thing to a family after they have lost a loved one, obviously financially but more so in the support you get. Lots of people will give you very sincere sympathy when tragedy strikes, but eventually they have to return to their everyday lives. The BackStoppers is always there supporting you and, when you may feel doubt about it, showing you that people really care about the sacrifice your loved one made.”
The BackStoppers helps children of fallen heroes, like Ralph, achieve their goals and dreams by providing financial assistance and support. Speaking about how we help, Ralph said, “I’m just so appreciative of what you all do and that The BackStoppers has helped so many families in so many ways. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for many families of survivors without the support that The BackStoppers gives”.Read More
The BackStoppers is now assisting the family of Captain John Kemper of the St. Louis Fire Department who died in the line of duty on July 12, 2017 as a result of injuries sustained battling a structural fire on July 5, 2017.
Capt. Kemper, who was 59-years old, was a 24-year veteran of the St. Louis Fire Department, serving as captain for nearly 10 years. He leaves behind his wife and adult daughter. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends, and fellow firefighters and co-workers.
Fire Captain John Kemper
St. Louis Fire Department
With the addition of the family of Capt. John Kemper, we are now assisting 82 families with 66 dependent children and have assisted 161 families since 1959.
The BackStoppers’ assistance is immediate and ongoing. Following the death of a firefighter, his or her family receives a check for $5,000 to be used in whatever way they need.
Within a few weeks, our representatives meet with the surviving spouse to identify the family’s other financial obligations, eliminate the family’s debt, and provide ongoing support for education and other extraordinary expenses.
We recognize the tremendous sacrifices that public servants make every day when they go to work. We understand the burdens placed on surviving spouses and children when tragedies occur. We believe our community has an obligation to care for the loved ones of those who have protected us. We accept the responsibility to make that happen. Join us in our cause. Help us provide life-long support for families of fallen heroes by donating or joining online or by mail to the address below.
The BackStoppers, Inc.
PO Box 795168
Saint Louis, MO 63179-0700
Faces of The BackStoppers is a moving new video showcasing the families we assist and how your support has impacted their lives. Help us raise awareness of the need to support the families of fallen heroes by sharing the video today.
Thank you for your support!Read More