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.