by TaLeiza Calloway
The men and women who work at Casey’s General Store in St. Joseph might not have known Tom Decker personally but know his death has left a community in mourning. The St. Joseph business is one of several locations selling T-shirts and pins in memorial of the Cold Spring police officer who was shot and killed in November.
The St. Joseph store is leading in sales of the items whose proceeds will allow members of the Cold Spring-Richmond Police Department to travel to Washington, D.C. to see Decker’s name inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in May. The Memorial honors federal, state and local law-enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of our nation and its people. It features two curving, 304-foot-long blue-gray marble walls. Carved on these walls are the names of more than 19,000 officers who have been killed in the line of duty throughout U.S. history, dating back to the first known death in 1791, according to www.nleomf.org. Unlike many other memorials in Washington, D.C., the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is an ever-changing one with new names of fallen officers added to the monument each spring, in conjunction with National Police Week.
The goal is to raise $10,000. Joan Willenbring, manager of the Casey’s store in Richmond, said fundraising efforts started a few months ago in Richmond to support Decker’s family and friends and the mission grew to other locations participating in cities that include St. Joseph, Waite Park, Foley and St. Cloud. All locations are selling the pins and T-shirts. From the selling of cookies with Decker’s badge number on them to the commemorative pins and T-shirts, many have stepped up to make sure Decker is not only remembered but is saluted when his name is put on the wall. Willenbring said the goal is make it so the officers can attend the week-long event that includes the inscription. Any money left over will be used to enhance officer safety and update equipment. One piece of equipment the department plans to buy is camera equipment for squad cars. Willenbring said if this type of technology had been in the vehicle the night of the shooting, footage could have aided in determining the shooting suspect.
Willenbring collects the money raised from the stores in St. Joseph, Waite Park and St. Cloud. She dropped off about 200 pins and they are almost gone. Sales are steady in St. Joseph.
“The St. Joseph store is doing an excellent job,” Willenbring said. “I’ve had to go there twice already to pick up (donations).”
Teresa Kruger-Lahr of St. Joseph is an assistant manager at the Casey’s store in St. Joseph. She said the community has really rallied behind the fundraising efforts.
“The support has been amazing,” Kruger-Lahr said.
Ryan Nuckolls is also an assistant manager at the Casey’s store in St. Joseph. He said within one week, the store sold 10 T-shirts and about 23 pins. Customers are curious about the navy blue shirts near the cash register.
“They are happy to see (this effort) here,” Nuckolls said. “I think people are more apt to support it in this area because of what happened to Klinefelter.”
Brian Klinefelter was a St. Joseph police officer who was shot and killed after stopping a vehicle carrying three liquor store robbery suspects in 1996.
Police Officer Tom Decker was shot and killed Nov. 29, 2012 as he and his partner performed a welfare check on a man whose family believed was suicidal.
Officers had attempted to make contact with the subject at his apartment but were not successful. They returned to the scene approximately two hours later. As Officer Decker exited his patrol car in an alley behind the apartment, he was ambushed and shot twice with a 20-gauge shotgun. He was fatally wounded despite wearing his vest. He was 31.
Decker served with the Cold Spring Police Department for six years. He had previously served with the Isle Police Department and Kimball Police Department for an additional four years. He is survived by his wife and four children.
The pins are $5. The T-shirts are available in sizes small through XXXL. The cost is $15 for sizes S-XL and $20 for sizes XXL and XXXL. Willenbring said eventually the shirts will be discounted. The front of the shirt has a shield on it that includes Decker’s badge number. The back of the shirt has a scripture from the Bible book of Matthew. Specifically, the scripture is Matthew 5: 19: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”