12-year-old among recipients of Missouri Public Safety awards


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The state of Missouri honored 22 Missourians for their heroic and life-saving actions Wednesday by receiving the state’s highest public award. 

Fifteen first responders and seven civilians, including a 12-year-old boy, from around the state were awarded medals from Gov. Mike Parson and the Department of Public Safety (DPS). 

Jayden Groves, 12, was honored for helping save his 22-month-old brother’s life. Groves noticed his brother wandered off from a large family gathering.

“In my head, I was like, he likes water, so let me go check the water,” Groves said. “I was scared because I thought he was going to pass.”

He found his brother face down in a pond. The boy, 11 years old at the time of the incident, rushed to a nearby fire department and got help. Groves said he passes the fire department every time he and his cousin walk to the store. 

“I was just banging on the door and I was like, my brother, he just drowned and we need help,” Groves said. “They put him in an ambulance and took him to a hospital.”

Groves was one of the seven civilians honored Wednesday. Three other men from Lamar also received the Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award for helping an officer take a murder suspect into custody after the officer was injured. 

“Church members, Lendon Blachard, Evan Clements, and Christopher Runion all immediately went to the officer’s aid,” DPS Director Sandy Karsten told the crowd. “Despite the risk to themselves, selflessly all came to the aid of Officer Simpson and prevented further injury to the officer.”

The suspect was accused of killing one person and shooting another in a Carthage hotel the night before. The three men were inside the First Christian Church of Lamar when they assisted Officer John Simpson after he and the suspect crashed into a bookcase where Simpson’s hand was cut. 

“All three assisted the officer as he struggled with a suspected killer,” Karsten said. “Grabbing the assailant’s arm to prevent further injury to the officer.”

This year’s Governor’s Medal went to several St. Louis area first responders who helped Arlydia Bufford after she was shot at inside a St. John’s Applebee’s. Bufford is a Kinloch firefighter and was dining with the fire captain at the time of the shooting. Captain Derion Meeks is credited with rendering life-saving first aid as Bufford was rushed to a hospital in a police cruiser.

“That was the longest, and worst five minutes of my life,” Meeks said. “Never would I have thought of being shot at sitting in an Applebee’s. I never would have thought it would take place.”

Meeks has been a firefighter since the age of 16. He said for seven years now, he knows he is never off the clock. 

“I do it just because I love what I do,” Meeks said. “You’re always on duty. I love helping people.”

Springfield Police Sergeant Heather Anderson received the Medal of Valor after stopping a suspect who ran over another officer. 

“I was honored and also kind of shocked because this is just part of my job,” Anderson said. “I would have done anything to save Officer Priebe that day.”

Last June, a man erratically came to the Springfield Police Department, speeding around the parking lot. Officer Mark Priebe motioned for the driver to stop and pull into a parking space but instead sped up and ran over Priebe. 

“My first moments with Officer Priebe, I didn’t know if he was going to survive while he was under the car,” Anderson said. 

Priebe was at the ceremony Wednesday after he was paralyzed from the incident. The investigation revealed the suspect had sent a text message the morning of the attack that he intended to “run a cop over.”

“This is a really big honor for me and the real hero though is Officer Priebe and I’m glad he was here today to share in this moment,” Anderson said. 

Members of the Chesterfield and St. Peter’s Police Department are also being honored following their part in a fiery rescue. The officers braved the flames to cut the wires holding the man in place. They succeeded in freeing the man, who was rushed to the hospital.

Also honored, two Franklin County Sheriff Deputies who were shot in the line of duty. The shooting happened after a driver refused to pull over for a traffic stop on I-44 near Hwy. 50.

Parson said he’s thankful for the men and the women that sacrifice everything to help someone they don’t know. 

“Some of these stories today, all the way from the law enforcement agencies, the fire departments, the emergency personnel, all the way to civilians, that step up to help with the time comes,” Parson said. “To hear those positive stories about people that come to rescue people and they lived to tell the stories.”

  • Medal of Valor:
    • Sergeant Jason M. Weggeman and Deputy Sheriff Ronald R. Burgess, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, for ending the threat posed by gunman.
    • Sergeant Michael J. Ottolini and Detective Lee Alex Clawson, Jefferson City Police Department, for ending the threat posed by a gunman.
    • Sergeant Heather M. Anderson, Springfield Police Department, for ending the threat posed by a motorist who had deliberately run over a Springfield police officer.
    • Corporal Jason A. Ashby, Missouri State Highway Patrol, for life-saving actions following a catastrophic boating collision. 
    • Officer John K. Gresco II, St. Charles County Police Department, for life-saving actions during severe flash flooding.
    • Officers Ryan W. Broeker and Andrew C. Mattaline, Chesterfield Police Department; and Devin R. Kitrel, St. Peters Police Department; for life-saving actions following a deadly automobile crash.
  • Governor’s Medal
    • Officers Mitchell D. Griffin and Dustin P. Hitchcock, St. John Police Department; Officer Michael W. Mertz, Crestwood Police Department; Officer Chad W. Hembree, Woodson Terrace Police Department; and Captain Darion Meeks, Kinloch Fire Department; for life-saving actions following a restaurant shooting in which multiple people were shot.
  • Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award:
    • Kurtis Brown, nominated by Missouri State Highway Patrol, for rescuing two men trapped inside a burning armored truck after a crash. 
    • Lendon J. Blanchard, Evan G. Clements, and Christopher A. Runion, nominated by Lamar Police Department, for critical assistance to a police officer in taking into custody a murder suspect after a violent disturbance at a church. 
    • Jayden Groves, nominated by Louis Fire Department, for the life-saving rescue of a 22-month-old boy who was drowning in a pond. 
    • Miles Spandle, nominated by Lee’s Summit Police Department, for life-saving actions following an automobile crash and fire.
    • Brody J. Von Brethorst, nominated by Cedar County Sheriff’s Office, for life-saving actions in the rescue of a teenager who sank to the bottom of a lake after diving off a 40-foot cliff.

DPS is now accepting nominations for heroic acts for 2021 until Feb. 28, 2022. To find the form, visit the department’s website.

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