In Honor of Officer Fred Thornton

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Written by Steve Goode

This article was written as a result of the tragic death of a Charlotte police officer who died as a result of an accident with a concussion grenade in February 2011. Read the Obituary As Christians we need to be able to view any tragedy through the eyes of our Christian worldview. I reflect upon Fred’s life and how we can use it to strengthen our own daily walk with Christ.

Finding Hope in Tragic Loss

It has been an emotionally draining day for all compassionate and caring people in Charlotte as CMPD Officer Fred Thornton was remembered in an emotional and well planned memorial service today. A dedicated officer less than two years away from retirement. Thousands in police departments across the state have been impacted by the accidental tragedy of an officer they never even carried on a casual conversation with, yet there seems to be some thin blue connection with them all. I have been pondering why this particular tragedy has impacted me personally when I am thirteen years removed from my police career in Greensboro. It’s not like I haven’t seen the death of close police officer friends before. I lost my best friend who was a police officer in Mooresville 20 years ago. In fact the only reason my friend went into police work is that he saw how much I enjoyed it. I remember attending Greensboro Officer Porter Robinson’s funeral while still serving there. So what is it about the death of Officer Thornton that has been so emotional for even me considering I never met him? Maybe it is because this story isn’t about the death of the young or even inexperienced officer, but a seasoned and decorated veteran who was only a short time away from receiving the benefits of his efforts.

Officer Thornton appears to have been the classic story of dedication, longevity, and training. A man who has stared death in the face, and repeatedly walked out of the debrief unscathed. Maybe the reason police officers across the state have been impacted by Officer Thornton’s death is that we all at some point and time have stared death in the face whether knowingly or unknowingly, and walked away unscathed. What has occurred this past few days is that many officers have been reflecting on moments when they weren’t the most careful in a situation. Times when they could have done a better search, or mindlessly walked into the “fatal funnel”, but for some reason, walked away unharmed. While we mourn the loss of a brother, we reflect and question why we have been given the gift of a second chance. You see, as many lives as Officer Thornton may have saved in his 28 years of dedicated and loyal service, there may be countless other lives he will save in the years to come as officer’s across the state tighten their belts, and re-focus on the importance of officer survival tactics in the daily performance of their duties. We are honoring a man who has saved lives both past, present, and future.

Another reason I believe this tragedy has left such a big imprint is that we all plan for the future as if we are guaranteed that it will be there waiting. It reminds me of a scripture in the book of James where it says,

 “Now listen, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:13-14)

This tragedy has shaken me to hug and re-hug my 3 and 7 year old, and let them know how much I love them. It has reminded me of the importance of not just planning for the future, but living in the now when it comes to family games, and flashlight hide and seek. It has re-enforced the insignificance of waxing the car when it comes to throwing the ball with my son. It has reminded me that it’s not about living tightly for the future, but living focused in the now. Looking for ways in the present to show my wife how much she is loved, and not making hollow tomorrow promises that may or may not be fulfilled.

For some that I know it may be looking less to things that give temporary satisfaction and seeing the importance of striving for eternal satisfaction. What about you? What newly revealed epiphany are you now aware of after such a difficult and grueling day of remembrance and loss? Will it really be the flowered gift that best remembers your fallen brother? Or will it be taking this tragedy, and making the necessary changes in your career and life to be the best that you can be. My personal prayer for each officer, and citizen alike is that you will see that there is only one way to be the best that you can be in all areas of your life. That area can only be initiated by seeking a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus said that he came to give us the only true way to live to the fullest in the here and now.

“A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10)

My thoughts and prayers will continue to be with Officer Thornton’s family as they now adjust to a life without their loving husband and father. May the God of all peace bring comfort to each of you.

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