By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – The crowd started gathering at Fairpark nearly an hour before Wednesday’s candlelight vigil for Tupelo Police Sgt. Kevin “Gale” Stauffer and Officer Joseph Maher.
“Christmas Day was Gale Stauffer’s favorite holiday,” said the Rev. Jim Curtis. “That’s why we decided to gather here to thank him for what he has done for us.”
Mayor Jason Shelton said it was especially difficult that at this time of happiness and joy, “we must reflect on the loss of one of our own.”
With the city’s Christmas tree behind them, hundreds of people held flickering candles and stood solemn and silent in the cold, as the sunset bathed clouds in red.
“I don’t know exactly how I’m going to get through this,” said Chief Bart Aguirre, “but as a new chief, I heard the words that will pierce the heart of every serving cop: ‘Officer down. Need help.’ Not just one officer but two officers.”
Stauffer was killed and Maher critically injured by a bank robbery suspect near Crosstown on Monday.
Maher’s father-in-law, Tim Phillips of Pontotoc, said the officer is “making progress. It’s just going to take a lot of time.”
Jason Watts, a member of Maher’s family, said Maher and his wife and daughter have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they’ve received over the past three days.
“They want to send their deepest thanks and gratitude to the city of Tupelo,” he said.
Aguirre said both officers risked everything to protect the community from a menacing evil.
“Thank you, Sergeant Stauffer, for the ultimate sacrifice,” Aguirre said.
He said the law enforcement community is grieving, along with Stauffer’s family, at Christmas.
“His two young children should have been eagerly looking for Santa,” Aguirre said.
Instead, they woke up without a father and their mother woke up a widow. Aguirre said their pain won’t be forgotten, and those that caused it will be brought to justice.
The Rev. Lynn Mote asked people to remember Jesus Christ’s sacrifices and offered hope from John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
As they were led in “Amazing Grace,” black and white, young and old lifted their candles to the sky.
The vigil and the silence ended when they blew out their flames. Many smiled and wished others “Merry Christmas” before parting, as the last rays of Christmas Day sun shone in the west.