BELLEVILLE, IL (KPLR) – The St. Clair County Jail hosted Illinois law enforcement and military officers as they read the names of over two dozen of their fallen brothers and sisters Wednesday morning. Two names from the turn of the 20th Century before were added to that list.
No one blinked as the Fairview Heights Police Honor Guard led a rifle salute. East Carondolet Police Chief Michael Dennis recalled a question he has been asked more times than he could count.
“Why would you do it?” as in, why would you put your life on the line for strangers.
“Because, we said we would,” he answered.
Then, he recalled the ones who did not make it home at the end of their shifts.
“They had families. They were all sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Some were mothers and fathers, and they left their families behind.”
They were also police officers, sheriff’s deputies and servicemen and women from Scott Air Force Base. Their ultimate sacrifice was etched in a stone pillar and in the hearts of the men and women gathered at the jail for the annual memorial. Each name was read. Each face was remembered. So was the day each loved one left, for good.
“My father Lieutenant Gregory Jonas who was taken away from us in 2009,” remembered Kalidah Jonas-Carraway.
Gregory Jonas is also a grandfather to 13-year-old Antonio. However, the man never got to meet one-year-old Jakayla.
“But, I know he is standing above her keeping her safe,” said Kalidah as she looked at her little girl.
Lieutenant Jonas was trying to keep residents safe in a Centreville apartment complex when his colleagues called his daughter family to a massive scene.
“I saw his car, door open, but no dad. I busted out crying. That is when they told me he was at the hospital. He had been shot, and it was basically the end of me and my father’s life.”
June 2, 2009 was Lieutenant Jonas’ End of Watch. St. Clair Sheriff Richard Watson said he has witnessed this end too many times.
“This is my 3rd year with the department and it doesn’t get any easier.”
The St. Louis County, Missouri Pipes and Drums played Amazing Grace. Then, the other officers stopped while one continued to play his bagpipes while slowly walked away from the ceremony. That was just one way Watson received a lot of help finding the words to explain to the children left behind what these fallen men and women meant to St. Clair County.
“They were good citizens. They did a good job. They worked for the community.
And, those are the things that are important to let people know.”
Two more names were added to the list. In 1900, St. Clair County Sheriff Herman Barnickol died after being shot during an escape attempt at the jail. In 1901, Missouri & Ohio Rail Agent James W. Brown was shot and killed when he and his partner caught thieves looting rail cars.
In 2012, Lemuel Houston was sentenced to over 50 years in prison for killing Lieutenant Jonas.
You can read the names and learn more about the memorial at http://www.thebadge.us/stclairheroes/.