As I was in my car today I heard on the radio that some of the slain Dallas police officers were being laid to rest. As I heard of the long processionals of people who’d come to show their support i drifted back in time…
The time was December, 2007, in Hazel Green Alabama. Normally a fun time of year. And it was, up until December 14, 2007. That’s when I found out Eric had been shot and it didn’t look good.
I had met Eric and his wife Leslie a year or two earlier at the Church I was serving as their pastor. They had a wonderful and large family (5 kids, one a newborn) and noticed that we didn’t have a playground. One day while working at the church I heard a commotion and went to investigate. Eric had taken their own personal playground, very nice, and brought it to the church so we’d have a playground. They lived just down the street.
Leslie would start a bible study and even fed others on the night they met.
On that night I got an anonymous call from the Huntsville Hospital’s ER by a nurse. To this day I don’t know how they knew me or even how they got my number. But she asked if I was the pastor at Genesis UMC in Hazel Green – I said I was, She asked if I was watching TV, I said no. She suggested I turn it on as Eric had been shot. I quickly turned my TV on as I rushed to get ready to go to Huntsville. Surely this couldn’t be happening, I thought. All I could think about was what’s going to happen, I mean Leslie and all his kids.
As I traveled down the parkway I could see a sea of blue lights before I even took the Governors exit. I entered the hospital and found Eric. Having been a chaplain, I could tell it wasn’t good. The room was crammed with medical personnel. Leslie was by his side.
After having prayer I drove back home to wait on the outcome. Arrived early the next morning to learn that Eric had died. He was only 36.
Over the next couple of days I would spend time at Leslie and Eric’s house. I was overwhelmed with the support of the Huntsville Police Department. They really do look after their own.
The funeral service would take place at Bethlehem Baptist, the only church in our area that could seat the crowd and in the end it couldn’t contain the crowd that came that day – over 1,000 people. Eric would be buried in my church’s cemetery. I still remember the processional as we led the hearse to Genesis. People were standing in their driveways in Eric’s honor as we passed. I remember one little boy saluting, reminiscent of the Kennedy processional, and that made me tear up.
After that I would attend several functions honoring Eric, with Leslie. But perhaps the hardest were the days I’d spend in the courtroom during the trial. Before I’d enter the courtroom on some days I’d be just feet away from the man that murdered Eric. I’d get to see the actual pistol that was used in the crime being waved around by the lawyers in front of the jury. I’d see the accused walked in each day and hear eyewitness accounts of what really happened that night.
I’ll never forget those days. So when I hear of situations like Dallas, and others that have been killed in the line of duty, I relive it all over again.
Life is always precious. Anytime anyone loses a loved one for any reason, it’s tough. So at a time when our country is in mourning for anyone that’s lost their life recently, please be in prayer.
Eric Freeman, End of Watch: Saturday, December 15, 2007