This week marks National Police Week, an observance signed into law by President Kennedy in 1962. Each day this week, City Blog will have a story focusing on the Huntsville Police Department. Today: A widow of slain officer gives back to those who helped her.
There are still bills to pay. There are kids to feed. There is paperwork to process in the fog of grief. There are the life-goes-on responsibilities, even when your world has come crashing down at your feet.
Nearly 10 years ago, Leslie Freeman was the beneficiary of support – equal parts financial and emotional support, she says – from the Huntsville Police Citizens Foundation.
Her husband, Officer Eric Freeman, arrived at the scene of a wreck on Bailey Cove Road on the night of Dec. 14, 2007. As he prepared to arrest a subject for DUI, the subject pulled a gun and shot Freeman in the face. Freeman died the following morning. He left behind Leslie and five children.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t have to worry about because (the Citizens Foundation) stepped up and helped my family,” Leslie says. “They took care of me and my kids. They got things taken care of that needed to be taken care of immediately.”
Now, the Huntsville Police Citizens Foundation will benefit from Leslie Freeman.
In April, she accepted the voluntary position as Program Director for the foundation. (She’ll continue her full-time job as a systems analyst for a defense contractor.)
Freeman had frequent conversations with police officials and even spoke at last year’s 9/11 Memorial service. She and Chief Mark McMurray discussed this role with the Foundation “and it didn’t take me two seconds to accept.”
She will attempt to bring more awareness to the Foundation and assist in fundraising events to bolster an account that one hopes will never be needed.
(Eric Freeman’s death was the most recent of the 10 incidents in which Huntsville Police officers were killed in the line of duty, dating back to 1883. Here is a tribute list to them.
He loved his job. Even now, when it comes out in conversation, and people say, ‘I’m so sorry’ and I go, ‘You know what. He loved his job. That’s all we can ask.”
The non-profit organization is independent of but works directly with the Huntsville Police Department. It has grown under the leadership of attorney Mike Fees and several leaders within HPD.
Its ongoing fundraiser is the Fallen Officers Memorial, with brick pavers sold to offer tribute to the police, family or others. (For information or to purchase a paver, click here.)
With the trauma endured by Leslie Freeman and her family, it would be most understandable for her to veer as far away from the Huntsville Police Department as possible. However, it’s been just the opposite.
Freeman and other family members have continued to show their support and connection to HPD. The family of Daniel Golden, slain in August 2005, will participate in Thursday’s Fallen Officers Memorial Service, at which they will be presented his service weapon.
“Every year, they come here and it means a lot for us to see them and their love for the police department,, ” says Officer Steven Anderson, a member of the HPD Honor Guard. “They’ll give more than we ever give. Leslie comes around and says how much she appreciates us, and the Goldens have shown the same appreciation.”
“For years, I’ve been saying, ‘Please, I’d like to be involved,’” Freeman says. “I can never repay them for all they’ve done for me and the kids. These officers that put on their badges every day, I will go with my last breath singing their praises. To head up these small things, it’s minor.”
Freeman offers an update on their five children. Cole, the eldest, is in the U.S. Navy and recently married. Cameron is at Jacksonville State. Austin is graduating soon from Scottsboro High, where he was an All-State defensive ba and has signed to play football at Jacksonville State. Emily, who lives with her grandparents, is wrapping up her junior year at New Century, and Elijah is 11.
Leslie is asked what she’d want people to know about her late husband.
“He loved his job. Even now, when it comes out in conversation, and people say, ‘I’m so sorry’ and I go, ‘You know what. He loved his job. That’s all we can ask,’” she says.
And what does she tell Elijah about the father he never knew?
“Pretty much the same thing,” she says. “I tell him when he gets older and he chooses a career, do something you love. If you love it and you’re passionate about it and you can be of service to other people, that’s what Eric did.”