Mission Moment – June 2020

“I told him that I love him”, a brother’s tribute. 

By Keith Ellis for Illinois Trooper Gerald Wayne Ellis, killed in the line of duty on March 30, 2019.

How do you describe life after something like this? How can you possibly convey the hurt that spills down into every nook and cranny of your “new normal”? A knock on the door. Often times is something you’d never think twice about. On the other hand, that knock can completely change your life. You know why they are there. You freeze. Maybe if I don’t answer it……..you can’t breathe. Holding your breath and closing your eyes. You can see it in their eyes. He’s gone. You say, “no!”. As if that will somehow make it untrue. They stand silently, giving you a moment to attempt to grasp the words that you’ve just heard. You’ve heard them, but you don’t want to listen. That was the last day of life as we knew it.

We were in shock. After the initial painful phone calls, there was silence. Cold, hard, deafening silence. While I’m sure an entire team sprang into action, we had no choice but to sit and wait. There was nothing we could do. Arrangements were made and we made the trip to Illinois. I honestly can’t recall much of the drive. I vaguely remember the first few days other than the immense pain.

I vividly recall the car ride to the first day of the services. Signs all across town spelled out a name that I knew. We wept at the sight of each one. This was real. This was happening and it wasn’t just a horrible nightmare. Our hearts pounded as we got closer. There were some formalities and we waited to see him. Our turn came. We walked towards the casket. There he was. We stopped in our tracks. This can’t be real. We wept as we stood there with our hands and knees shaking. I reached down to touch him. My hand on his chest, I told him how much I missed him. I told him how sorry I was that this happened to him. I told him that I love him.

A father, a husband, a son, and my little brother. My only sibling. An Illinois State Trooper. All of those titles he held proudly. Especially father. He loved his 2 little girls. When he wasn’t on duty he was on “Dad duty”. They were his happiness and his joy. The giggles that came from those little girls were a testament to that.

He also found joy in hunting with our father. Even if the deer didn’t know they were invited that day. The time they spent together was the real trophy. Of course, my deer was always bigger. That’s one of the ways that we expressed our love for one another. We could aggravate one another, but when someone else tried it, I was my brother’s keeper. There is a reason we refer to fellow servicemen and women as our brothers and sisters. That is a bond that cannot be broken. Even in death.

I wish I could tell you the number of times I’ve picked my phone up to call him. I wish I could tell you the number of times I’ve laid awake at night wanting nothing more than to hear his voice. I know he’s still with me. Just in a different way. Sometimes it’s in a song on the radio. Sometimes it’s a red bird landing the moment I think of him. I used to call him up and we would joke about things, share a few laughs and make plans to get together.

We would talk about how fast the kids were growing up. We would start to feel the years when we imagined them going to high school, their prom and graduation. How proud we would be on their wedding day. Now he won’t get to be there. Someone took that from him.

Even though we are working on the anger and the hurt we feel surrounding this entire situation, we are left feeling completely defeated. As more and more information was disclosed to us regarding the circumstances that led to Jerry’s death, the wound became deeper and deeper. Officers are out on the front lines enforcing laws. Laws that are put into place to keep our community safe. We can’t help but to share the frustration they must feel when these cases make their way to court. How can one man be shown so much leniency by our justice system? This leniency allowed him to continue to be free and continue to break the law. He was shown grace and mercy and he showed Jerry none. The message was never sent to him that his actions were dangerous and reckless. His punishment did not fit his crimes. If you continue to send this message, we must prepare for more loss.

How much is a life worth? How many second chances should one get? How long can we afford to condone this type of behavior? When will we start recognizing that it’s not just driving under the influence? When will we start seeing it as the potential pain, suffering and loss that it is? You make the choice to purchase intoxicants. You make the choice to consume them. You make the choice to operate a vehicle and you make the choice to put your own life and the lives of others at risk. This isn’t something that happens on accident. How many chances do you have to make the right choice before you drive while intoxicated? How many chances does the court bestow on you before you realize you’re one choice away from killing someone? I can tell you, from our perspective, it was entirely too many.

Editor’s note: Illinois Trooper Gerald Ellis was killed in the line of duty when he intentionally collided with a wrong way drunk driver, preventing it from striking another vehicle containing a family that was traveling in the same lane as the vehicle. The drunk driver, a multiple repeat offender, was also killed in the crash.

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