One year ago, life changed forever in an instant for the Thompson family of Corsicana.

A close-knit family whose men either coached kids’ sports or enforced the law, matriarch Paulette Raley Thompson and husband Sam, who many call affectionately “Coach,” had been to the Masonic hall to pick up a lawn mower they’d won in a drawing.

“We were giggling and laughing and cutting up like a couple of high school kids,” Sam said. “We came home, sat in our usual places, turned on the TV. We saw the peaceful march (in Dallas), and I could’ve sworn I saw Brent.”

The Thompson’s middle son, Brent, a Marine, had been to Afghanistan, and became a police officer, and was working for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. He had married Emily, another DART officer, just two weeks prior to July 7.

“About that time we heard the shooting ...” Sam said. “Paulette looked at me, didn’t say a word, I didn’t say a word, but with mother’s intuition ... somehow communicated that Brent was involved.”

They called Lowell, the eldest son who serves as District Attorney of Navarro County, but he said he could not talk right then. They knew that was not a good sign. Lowell came to get them, and all they knew at that point was that Brent was wounded. On their way to Baylor Hospital in Dallas, Lowell received another call while they were going through Ennis, and he had to inform his parents that Brent had been fatally wounded.

“My only comment on that is it was over 5,000 miles from Ennis to Baylor Hospital,” Sam said. “It was the longest trip of my life.”

They were allowed in to see him, and his color was still good, he was still warm. He just looked as if he were asleep, Sam said. Then the family was asked if it was all right if they moved him to another room so some officers could see him. Things after that became sort of a blur. Youngest son Darrell, who lives in Crosby, was notified he could wait until morning to make the trip to Corsicana.

Beauty from ashes

“The next morning my upline at Ambit Energy was standing at my door — Don Boyd, James Stapleton, and the Singletarys,” Sam said. “They had more chicken than I’d ever seen in my life.”

The woman at Golden Chick, upon hearing who the chicken was for, just gave all the food to Thompson’s friends. She herself had a daughter who was a police officer in Waxahachie, so her empathy was heartfelt.

“Don said, we want to buy the headstone,” Sam said. “At the time I was in another world, and I said okay — didn’t know what to say. Later on he handed us a shoebox full of money, and we did get him a nice headstone. Brent was a regional consultant for Ambit.”

People from Ambit all over the United States donated money for Brent’s headstone,” Paulette said. “It was a special thing at the national convention.”

There were two funeral services held for Brent and a graveside. The first, at The Potter’s House in Dallas, was attended by other policemen from all over the nation. The second was held at Northside Baptist Church, and Pastor Rick Lamb did both services. Sam said he couldn’t express enough thanks to Rick Lamb, and to Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home.

“The Navarro County Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department, Police Department — all of them were there for us,” he said. “Kenneth Dunagan of the CPD went to Washington D.C. with us. It was really nice for him to show up in Washington, and also the hard work he did in Corsicana for us.”

Thompson also expressed big thanks to all the cafes and restaurants in town who brought food for the policemen who were at Griffin-Roughton around the clock. He specifically mentioned Chili’s, Old Mexican Inn, the Country Club, and Vicky Prater.

Awards and scholarships began springing up almost immediately. Though the Thompsons were overwhelmed with the national media attention, they were and are so grateful for all those who thought enough of Brent to start a scholarship, or establish an award in his name. The Brent Thompson Memorial Scholarship is for anyone seeking a police career to attend the Police Academy at Navarro College. It is done through the Child Advocacy Center, and Officer Scott Stephens who does the fundraiser for that entity. The 100 Club named an Officer of the Year Award for him.

“The Southeast Coaches Association gave a Brent Thompson Memorial Scholarship, which went to an athlete, with the first going to a kid in Crosby, where Darrell coaches,” he said. “The Texas High School Football Hall of Fame board, we appreciated their thoughts, prayers and flowers. We also got cards, letters and monetary gifts for Brent’s kids from over 44 different states’ Masonic Lodges. That is near and dear to me.”

The Grand Officers of the Masonic Lodge of Texas performed the graveside ceremony. One gentleman was from Avalon, and played basketball against Sam.

“It is a pretty rare occurrence to have all those grand officers together at one time,” Lowell said.

Cory Neal, a young man who had been coached by Thompson, wanted to help. He is in the real estate business, so he had signs made that said “Back the Blue — In honor of Officer Brent Thompson.” The signs were sold in the metroplex where Neal now lives and in Corsicana by Denise Harper and her real estate team, and the money raised given to the family.

“We went to eat at Norma’s Cafe in Dallas where Brent used to eat and have coffee in the mornings,” Sam said. “We gave them a sign when we ate there. The way we knew that he went there is because Mrs. Sirman and Cindy Griggs were there eating one day, and saw pictures of Brent on the walls.

“Anyway, a couple of days later the sign was stolen, and they got it on camera. A mother recognized her daughter from the video, and said it was nothing against the police, the girl was just mad at a waiter, and made the girl bring the sign back.”

Thompson said a fellow named Bob Reddish contacted him about wanting to do a car show. People from all over the state came and brought their cars, and the money was to go to the Brent Thompson Fallen Officer Fund. It has a board that decides how the money will be spent. A few days later Reddish called Sam and said Deputy Darren Murray with the NCSO had been killed in an auto accident.

“We knew Brent would have done this,” Sam said. “The money raised from the car show was divided three ways between Brent’s kids, Darren Murray’s family, and the family of Chester Jones, a CPD officer who died on the job last year.”

There were also trips to meet people they might not have met otherwise. Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys, had all five families of the slain officers come to training camp in Oxnard, California. Sam said they immediately bonded with Valerie Zamarripa, Patrick’s mother, because they were all parents. They formed a friendship, and Paulette and Valerie even appeared together on the Dr. Oz show. When Brent’s baby son William graduated high school and a party was held for him, the Zamarripa family was there.

“We were walking in New York City, and we wandered into St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” Sam said about himself, Paulette and Valerie. “We were getting ready to leave, and I went up to a NYC Cop. I said Brent came up to NYC after 9/11 and drove your police cars, worked with you, and grieved with them. When the officer found out he was one of the Dallas Five, she said, ‘I was at your son’s funeral.’

“Turned out she was at Patrick’s funeral, but she got out a roll of keys like a high school janitor. She showed us all these special places in the Cathedral, places most people don’t get to go.”

Ann Marie Wood, the NYPD officer, showed them the seat where the Pope sits when he’s in the United States, as well as the basement where the cardinals are entombed.

There was a trip in May of this year to the capitol, where Sam, Paulette, Lowell and his family, and Brent’s children all went to Washington D.C. President Trump and Vice President Pence spoke to them in front of the capitol building, and they visited the Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, the Korean Memorial, which was all educational and enjoyable, Sam said.

There was a street named for their son, Officer Brent Thompson Way in Dallas. DART preserved his locker exactly as he left it, with plexiglass over it, where all his fellow DART officers signed it, as well as his family.

They met President Obama and Vice President Biden and his wife while they were still in office, and President Bush.

“The President spent about 30 minutes with us,” Sam said. “When the most powerful man in the United States spends time grieving with you, it’s pretty powerful.”

When Brent was brought home, it was unannounced. Lowell went to his dad and asked, “Have you been in downtown Corsicana?” and they got in a car and drove around town, to see all the people lining the streets to honor him.

“Corsicana and Navarro County really represented well,” Sam said.

“It’s just amazing the support that you get from all over,” Lowell said.

The candlelight vigil held at the High School on Sunday evening after the attack on Thursday was emotional for the entire family. Media were there from all over, television and print, and but what really touched them was all the coaches and superintendent from Crosby who were there to support Darrell, who spoke for the family that night.

They met Snoop Dogg and Attorney General Loretta Lynch (not together), flew on Jerry Jones’ private jet, and talked to Coach Jackie Sherrill, Coach Jason Garrett, hugged Jerry Jones and Darrell “Moose” Johnson.

“We went to a meeting with the FBI, CIA, etc. and they told us Brent was a hero,” Sam said. “This was months later. Basically, the shooter came by, and was getting out of his van, putting on his armor. He asked a lady walking by if she’d heard of police shootings. She said no and kept walking.”

Brent had just called his wife of two weeks, Emily, and said it was nearly over and he was about to come home. When Brent spotted the shooter, he charged him, wounding him. He prevented the shooter from killing approximately 20 cops who were headed right for him, Sam said.

“One man whose life Brent saved gave me a coin that is so special to me,” Sam said. “At the end of the day, he’s not here. But there have been so many great and wonderful things people have done for us, it’s unbelievable.”

The Thompson family cemetery

About 10 years ago, Sam and his three sons were just out riding around, and the topic of a family cemetery came up. Some land in Brushie Prairie that went back generations, both in the Thompson and Raley families, is still in their family. Nearly every Thanksgiving, Sam and his boys would hunt something out on the family land. Male bonding times were plentiful out at Brushie Prairie, where many good memories were made.

One particular plot of land once had a house on it, where Paulette’s father and his five brothers were raised. Oddly enough, Sam and his family lived in the house at one time, too. Sam distinctly recalls being able to see Navarro Mills Lake from the house, as well as his mother planting flowers, two of which remain.

Everyone liked the idea of making a family cemetery on that site except Brent. Sam said, “Why not? You’ve got more kids than all of us put together! You’d go broke just buying plots for all of them.”

Brent agreed, but with one stipulation — that Lowell be buried over the septic tank.

Sam had mentioned to Paulette that they’d best get busy on the cemetery, getting ready, because he wasn’t getting any younger and “had a few nicks on me.” Never did he dream that he would not be the first Thompson buried in the family plot.

“In 2015, we made a little money on the hay and bought pipe with it, so we had the pipe (to make the fence),” Sam said. “After July 7, my nephews took the bull by the horns and did all the work — Colt Lawhon, John Lawhon and Big Country (also known as James Jordan).”

The beautiful headstone is beneath a giant shade tree, in a place that’s peaceful, serene, and where only the sounds of nature can be heard. Two plants they’ve mowed down a hundred times have come back yet again, and two weeks after the burial, they bloomed.

“A big, beautiful white bloom,” Paulette said. “They’d never done it before, and it hasn’t happened again since.”

Sam has it all mapped out, with each generation having its own row, branching off from he and Paulette at the head. It just so happens Brent is right in the center. The gate stays locked, but every DART officer has the combination, so they may come whenever they wish. The headstone has four quarters laid upon it, which have each been placed there by an officer who was with him when he was killed.

The Thompsons go out there, a 20-minute drive from town, at least twice a week since the burial. Sam is focused on getting the grass like he wants it. There’s still a bit of painting to do on the fence. But it is a place where they feel close to him, and Paulette will not allow the flowers to become weathered or faded.

“So many awards and kind words,” Sam said. “We are told he saved lives. There have been so many positive things that it’s just truly unbelievable.

“But at the end of the day, when the sun goes down, he is not here. That is tough.”

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dkirk@corsicanadailysun.com

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