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Parents cope with loss of slain son

Staff Writer

May 13, 2000 11 PM

It’s been over 18 years since they lost their son, but the pain is still just as deep today as it was that Thanksgiving Day in 1981.

Just hours before, Harold and Joanne Watkins had celebrated the holiday with their family and suddenly, they found themselves mourning the loss of their son, Steve, an officer with the Troy Police Department.

When Steve graduated from Pike Liberal Arts School, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the rest of his life so he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served as a military policeman.

That’s when he knew.

He’d always been the outdoors type, his parents said, so handling a gun was second nature to the fourth of five boys.

"That’s what he felt like he was called to do," Harold said of his son’s choice of law enforcement.

So, when he returned home, the Marine MP became an officer with the Troy Police Department and started back to school full-time.

"He lived a full life," Harold said of his son.

Between being a full-time police officer and full-time college student, he also served as his church’s Sunday school superintendent and always had time for his family.

"At all times, he had a gun and a Bible in his car," Harold said.

That religious upbringing was the only source of comfort when their son died because they knew he was going to Heaven.

"The only comfort we had was knowing he was right with God," Joanne said. "He knew he wasn’t going to live to be an old man."

However, that sense of knowing where their son was didn’t alleviate the pain they felt at the loss of their 25-year-old son.

Hours after gathering for the Thanksgiving noon meal, Steve reported for duty.

That afternoon the police department received a call on Daisy Court of a man in the street with a gun. This was the same location other officers had been to not long before and taken a pistol away from Roy Edwards, 79, of Troy.

Steve arrived and radioed in that the man was sitting on the porch holding a shotgun. Those were his last words.

As Steve stepped out of his patrol car, he was shot in the chest by Edwards. After an hour-long effort to revive the fallen officer, Steve was pronounced dead at 4:15 p.m. at Edge Memorial Hospital (now Edge Regional Medical Center).

The Watkinses found out about the shooting from some friends who had been listening to a police scanner.

Joanne was at home alone since she had left her mother’s house to rest after the big dinner. Harold called and told her something had happened to Steve.

"I called the police department and, of course, they didn’t want to tell me," Joanne said with tears in her eyes. "I told them they had to tell me.

"He hadn’t been at work any time," Joanne said remembering that devastating day.

That’s when she found out her son had been shot. So, they rushed to the hospital and waited for word of their son’s condition.

"It was a couple of hours when they told us," Joanne said of the hardest wait of her life.

Doctors told the couple that Steve had seven holes in his heart ­ the one organ he had used so much of his life in love of people and horses.

Ironically, it was about two months before he was shot down that Steve had met with Troy commissioners regarding the need for better equipment.

His parents remember their son telling the commissioners that someone was going to get killed if better equipment wasn’t purchased. Little did those commissioners know how true the officer’s comments were.

At that time, the department only had a few bulletproof vests and, although, Steve had purchased his own, he wasn’t wearing it at the time he was shot.

Like the mother of any officer, Joanne worried about her son’s safety.

"He always said, ‘Don’t worry, Maw,’" Joanne remembers her son saying when she would express concern about him being hurt on the job.

Harold said the most difficult thing is when the anniversary of Steve’s death approaches. But, a few years ago, the day brought joy when a grandson was born on that day ­ Nov. 26.

Losing a child is "one of the most devastating things that can happen to you," Harold said. "But, on the other hand, we enjoyed him for almost 26 years."

"It doesn’t matter how many you’ve got, there’s always an empty spot," a tearful Harold said of losing one of his five sons.

"It’s something that never goes away completely. You have to learn to live with it."