Community mourns the loss of DSP trooper Ballard

Date Published: 
May 5, 2017

Coastal Point • Maria Counts: Candles are held up during the vigil on the Circle in Georgetown held in honor of Delaware State Police Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard on Monday, May 1. The trooper was killed in the line of duty in Bear.Coastal Point • Maria Counts: Candles are held up during the vigil on the Circle in Georgetown held in honor of Delaware State Police Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard on Monday, May 1. The trooper was killed in the line of duty in Bear.

The entire state of Delaware was shaken last week, after Delaware State Police Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard was shot and killed in the line of duty, during a stop on a suspicious vehicle in Bear. Ballard was 32 years old.

The eight-year veteran is survived by his wife, Louise Cummings, and a 5-year-old daughter.

On Monday, May 1, more than 400 people gathered at The Circle in Georgetown for a candlelight prayer vigil for Ballard. Ballard’s wife was in attendance, as was his godmother, Stephanie Williams.

“I’d like to take a moment and thank everyone who came here to the heart of Sussex County tonight to show their respect for and to stand in solidarity to the legacy of Cpl. Ballard,” said state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, who presided over the vigil and who was the mayor of Georgetown in 2009, when Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer was shot and killed in the line of duty.

“To Cpl. Ballard’s family — we feel your pain as we’ve lived through it. And to law enforcement up and down Delaware — we recognize and are extremely grateful for the dangers you place yourself in day after day in towns, cities, rural and suburban areas up and down our state. The thin blue line is what separates the lawful from the lawless, the good from the evil, and is necessary in today’s society, unfortunately.

“Sometimes those guardians — the warriors that make up that line and serve in our community — are struck down long before their time,” Pettyjohn continued. “When there’s a death from within their ranks, it is our responsibility as a community to be there to support their families, their brothers and sisters in law enforcement, until they are able to pay homage to their fallen, to allow them a chance to heal.

“The show of support tonight here tonight is absolutely amazing. This is an outward public sign of the respect the people of our community have for law enforcement and a show of support of Cpl. Ballard’s family. This is also a clear message to all law enforcement that we — all of us here on The Circle tonight — have your back.”

The event was attended by many government officials, including state Reps. Ron Gray, Ruth Briggs-King and Steve Smyk (himself a retired trooper). Those who quietly stood in solidarity included DSP officers, and law enforcement and fire officials from all over Sussex County. In the audience, Ruth Ann and Aubrey Spicer — Spicer’s mother and daughter, respectively — also stood in silent solidarity.

“A law-enforcement officer takes pride every day in doing the following: putting on the uniform, honoring the badge, protecting our community and respecting everyone. Last Wednesday, April 25, 2017, Cpl. Ballard gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Georgetown Mayor Bill West.

“He encountered someone who didn’t respect the uniform, respect the badge, respect the law or care about human life. Some would say that our country has changed, and that is probably true. But rest assured that police officers will always wear the uniform with pride and integrity, honor the badge, and always serve our communities.

“Cpl. Ballard is gone now, and the citizens of this state will never forget that he gave the ultimate sacrifice. God bless him, his family, and God bless our law enforcement.”

During the vigil, DSP Sgt. J.B. Mitchell read from scripture and Georgetown Police Department Cpl. Matthew Barlow sang.

Speaker of the Delaware House of Representatives Pete Schwartzkopf, a retired DSP captain, solemnly called attention to the fact that the community was gathered together in grief again.

“The people of Georgetown are very familiar with the grief and the feeling of helplessness that we all feel tonight. They went through it in 2009, when Georgetown Patrolman Chad Spicer was murdered,” he said.

“The feeling never really goes away, and you just learn how to deal with it and keep moving forward. Police officers are special people. Stephen Ballard was a special person… By all accounts, he was a tremendously generous individual, full of hope and promise. He knew his community and gave back in many ways, never looking for attention.

“His wife, Louise, said he was a mentor to many, but in particular to students at his alma mater, Delaware State University, often paying some of their expenses. He would generously pay for people to fix their cars to get to work.

“She said, at Christmastime he would put small toys and coloring books in his car give to any kids he would encounter on the complaints he handled that day. She said Steve often talked about being governor one day. Louise, who knows — if I’m able to be Speaker of the House, I think Stephen probably could’ve been governor and pretty dog-gone good at it.”

Schwartzkopf said it often takes a tragedy to remind people to thank those in law enforcement for risking their lives in their “gift of services.”

“When Cpl. Ballard died last Wednesday, a part of Delaware died as well,” he said, adding that he was glad to see so many people in attendance on Monday night to show their support. “They always have our back. Tonight, we are telling them we have their back.”

Ballard began his DSP service in Georgetown

DSP Col. Nathaniel McQueen Jr., superintendent of the Delaware State Police, thanked the citizens in attendance for their support of law enforcement during these trying times, and he made note of Ballard’s connections to Georgetown and Sussex County at large.

“We extend our heartfelt appreciation to everyone for coming out for tonight’s prayer vigil in honor of Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard. We also thank you for your kind thoughts and expressions of sympathy.

“Cpl. Ballard began his career with Delaware State Police here in Georgetown, at Delaware State Police Troop 4. Over the four years that he worked in Sussex County, he fostered positive relationships with the community, with a focus on mentoring our youth,” McQueen noted.

“As we prepare to honor and celebrate the life of Stephen on Friday, I want to thank you for this prayer vigil this evening. Delaware State Police and law enforcement have always had a great relationship with the citizens of Georgetown and the larger Sussex County community.

“This ceremony is significant because it strengthens us in this difficult time and restores our faith in the goodness of all people,” he added. “It also brings us closer to our community. The love for community is why many troopers choose to enter this profession. It’s comforting to know that their service is valued by the community.

“Although we may have moments of struggle as individuals, we will continue to hold up one another, drawing from the strength of many — many of you here tonight. Even in difficult times like we have experienced over the past few days, we are privileged and honored to serve the citizens of Delaware. The Delaware State Police will endure, and we will continue that service.”

At the vigil, Ballard’s widow spoke in-person for the first time publicly, noting that she hadn’t been sure if she could speak.

“But then I realized that Stephen’s story needed to be told. He was a good man. He loved his family — but that wasn’t just me and Abigail — that was the community. You are his family. I chose to speak here because this is where we met, this is where Stephan started his career, Troop 4. This is where we were engaged, in Dewey Beach… This is where we spent a lot of time together.”

She went on to thank those in attendance for their overwhelming support.

“I found it fitting to come here and to address you for a few minutes to say, ‘Thank you.’ I am the one who moved him from Sussex County, so I’m sorry for that. He made his way from Troop 4 to Troop 3 to Troop 2, and he was very proud to have served in each county here in Delaware. He truly, truly loved this state.

“He wants nothing more than to put on his uniform … and honor this great state. So, thank you. Thank you for your support, for all of your love, for the cards, the notes, the calls and the well-wishes. We just can’t thank you enough. I know he’s smiling down now, because he always wanted people to know how much he cared and how much he loved you. This is just incredible. So, thank you.”

A public visitation for Ballard will take place this Friday, May 5, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington. A memorial service honoring Ballard’s life will begin at approximately 11 a.m. His burial, which will be attended by family and Delaware State Police personnel, will be held immediately following the memorial service, at Gracelawn Memorial Park in Minquadale.

A memorial fund has been established at the Delaware State Police Federal Credit Union in the name of Cpl. Ballard, and all proceeds will be given to his family. Checks can be made out to the DSTA—Stephen Ballard Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 168, Cheswold, DE 19936. The Delaware State Police noted that that is the only official memorial fund dedicated in Ballard’s name.