Fallen Illinois trooper honored for how he served

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WATERLOO, IL - The high school gymnasium of Waterloo High School was filled with members of law enforcement and community members showing their respect for a fallen hero on Sunday.  Illinois State Trooper Nicholas Hopkins was shot and killed in the line of duty on August 23rd.   Law enforcement members from around the country came to Sunday’s funeral to show their respect.

“We have to be brave,” said the trooper’s widow.  Whitney Hopkins thanked the law enforcement community for their support and service and said.  “We have to be strong and keep making those memories as we would say.”

Trooper Hopkins was remembered as a loving husband, father and a man who was proud to serve.  His brother Zack Hopkins struggled to deliver the eulogy as he fought back tears.  He said of his brother, “Because of you we will strive just a little bit harder to be kind to others, to live life big and not to take ourselves too seriously.”

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker spoke about how much Hopkins loved his children and how he served at every opportunity.   He said, “His very last hours on this earth were spent sacrificing himself for people that he never met.  He gave all that he could give, and he demonstrated the kind of courage that his fellow troopers know from their service and that we all hope that we possess.”

Pastor Jamey Bridges shared a story about how Hopkins responded when some children asked him about law enforcement.  He recalled Hopkins responding to a question about whether he had ever shot at anyone.  Bridges said Hopkins answer was, “My job is not to shoot at others.  My job is to be kind and hope that that works.”

Hopkins was praised for helping others even after his death.  He was an organ donor.   His widow reminded everyone how precious every minute of life is.  She said, “You have a choice to do the little things in life.  Do them.  Make time for what’s most important.”

Brendan Kelly is the Illinois State Police Director.   He delivered the following remarks during Sunday’s funeral:

“Governor, all the men, and women of the Illinois State Police, SWAT, MEPAT, Zone 6 and District 11, Friends and Family of Trooper Hopkins, Jim, Verna, Valerie, Zac, Emily, Gabe, Whitney, Evelyn, Owen, and Emma:

As you all know the motto of the Illinois State Police, the ISP, is integrity, service, and pride. No doubt Nick has said these words many times. Of these three values, Pride is probably the hardest to explain or define sometimes.

But not after Friday, August 23rd.

As the Governor mentioned, Trooper Hopkins loved the American flag. And so as Colonel Peyton, Colonel Wolf, Lt. Colonel Trame and myself placed the Stars and Stripes gently over Nick before moving him from his room at the hospital to the transplant center, there is no doubt he was proud.

And as he made his way through the halls of St. Louis University Hospital completely lined with medical staff and officers and even patients, and as men and women of all sizes and shapes, creeds and colors, young and old, bowed their heads, put their hands over their hearts, or stood at  attention and saluted, you could see and feel the Pride.

When we reached the end of that line at the ambulance, it was the honor and duty of Colonel Peyton, Colonel Wolf, and myself to ride sitting beside Nick in the ambulance to his next destination where his SWAT brothers were waiting.

And in that ambulance, there was a feeling that overwhelmed the anger and the sadness:  Pride.

A feeling of being so, so proud of him.

Proud that God still makes people like Trooper Hopkins.

Proud that men and women like him still walk among us on this earth.

Proud that of all the things Nick could have done with his life, he chose to be an Illinois State Trooper, he chose to be part of the ISP.

It’s not a pride that’s arrogant or superior. But a pride rooted in love.

I could see that love when I talked to Nick’s father and brother at the hospital when they told me what a great carpenter and builder he was, which made me think of another great but little known builder from the past who has no statue or tomb with his name, but only a small marker among the city he built that simply says “if you seek his monument, look around you.”

We will rightly name a road or bridge after Trooper Hopkins, and we will rightly put his name on the memorial wall, but that will not be his greatest monument.

If you seek his true monument, look around you.

His monument is the light on the path forward that he leaves for his brothers in SWAT and MEPAT and Patrol, and all his brothers and sisters in the Illinois State Police.

If you seek integrity, there it is!

If you seek service, the ultimate service, there it is!

If you seek pride, in this moment, just look around you.

But that is not the limit of his monument.

Because even in death, Nick chose to serve others by donating his organs, his monument may be in the very movement of someone who walks again with nick’s muscle and sinew, in the air of someone who breaths with Nick’s lungs, in the blood of life pumping through someone who lives with his amazing heart, someone or many someones’s on this earth who we may pass in a crowd smiling because of Nick.

But even that is not his greatest monument. That can be seen in the eyes of his brothers and sisters, in the eyes of his mother and father, in the eyes of his loving wife, and the eyes of his three children, Evelyn, Owen, and Emma - it’s the love they all share with him and each other. That is his greatest monument - a legacy of love that will endure forever.

One of his fellow Troopers told me Nick was always challenging himself and those around him to be better. So, his life is a challenge to all of us.

But in this most difficult of moments, how can we possibly answer that challenge?

Well, Nick was a carpenter; and no doubt, he is in the hands of the greatest carpenter now. And maybe that’s our answer.

People used to have bumper stickers and armbands and now memes that say “what would Jesus do?”

Right now, what would Trooper Hopkins do?

Would he give up helping the least among us?

No.

Would he let the pain overcome the joy?

No.

Would he surrender one inch of light to the darkness?

Hell no.

But when our integrity and courage is challenged what do we do without him?

Well Just ask yourself what would Trooper Nick Hopkins do?

What would an Illinois State Trooper do?

And you’ll have your answer, and you’ll know what to do.

God bless you Whitney and your family.

God bless the soul of Trooper Nick Hopkins.

And God bless the Illinois State Police.”

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