WOOD RIVER, IL - They have been gone for more than a century but the only two officers ever to die in the line of duty at the Wood River Police Department are still top of mind for the Chief there.
“What they did helped build the City of Wood River and now we`re a part of that to keep continuing building that and we just hope to do our thing by memorializing them in the right way,” said Wood River Police Chief Brad Wells talking about past Wood River Police Chief Samuel Thompson and former Wood River Police Officer John Phipps.
Thompson was killed in 1912 during a shootout; Phipps died in 1916 after he was bitten by a rabid dog.
There are plaques for both officers in the Wood River Police Department lobby but Wells wants to do more.
That`s why he`s planning to build a memorial at the department and put special markings on the headstones of Thompson and Phipps.
“When you sign up for this job you`re basically taking a bullet for a stranger so to speak and I say that all the time. You know I`ll take a bullet for a stranger so you can only imagine what I would do for my loved ones and these gentlemen did that also,” explained Wells.
Thompson and Phipps are both buried at the Upper Alton Cemetery in Alton not far from each other.
Wells says Thompson`s widow actually had his body moved to Upper Alton from an East St. Louis cemetery and he wound up being buried close to Phipps.
Phipps` great-grandson Bill Phipps loves the idea for a memorial and special grave marking.
He still keeps his great-grandfather`s nightstick at his Godfrey home.
Bill calls his great grandfather a hero who deserves to be remembered.
“It means a lot to me. I`m just very proud of him,” said Phipps about the memorial plans and his loved one.
Wells added, “We`re all human, we`re all compassionate, and this is one of the things that we want to show that side.”
Chief Wells hopes to have the markings at the cemetery done by the end of this year and the memorial at the police department completed by the end of next year.
Wells isn`t sure what the memorial and markings will look like yet.
He`s doing multiple fundraisers including selling t-shirts at the Wood River Police Department.
Wells is trying to raise $15,000; so far about $8,000 has been raised.
If you want to help, you can call the Wood River PD at 618-251-3114.