I was truly grateful for the van that this dear lady gave to my family and I. It was the color of our choice and easily seated seven people. She had seen me on TBN and felt that the Lord told her to give me her van! I couldn’t believe it. I remember the day she brought it to our house. We were overwhelmed.
I kept it for years, took it everywhere, and just flat wore it out. It had two gas tanks; when one ran dry, you only needed to flip over to the other one. Eventually, however, both gas gauges broke, and I had to guess at the level of fuel in my tank. I was usually right…
Except for one particular day…
I had just gotten off work, and was headed home when the van began to sputter. “Crap,” I thought, “I miscalculated.”
The van died and I cruised into the parking lot of a nearby church. I hopped out, kicked the tire, and said a couple of things that I shouldn’t have. To make matters worse, I was still in my police uniform – which always increases the embarrassment factor…
As I stood there staring at the van, as if doing so would cause gas to appear in the tank, a man walked up to check on me…
“Officer, what’s the problem?”
“Oh, I’m out of gas. The gas gauges are broke and I never know how much I’ve got. But I’ll be ok. I only live a few blocks down the street.”
“Why don’t you let me go get you some gas?” he asked
“Sir, I don’t even know you. I don’t want to impose. But thanks anyway.”
“Helping a police officer would mean a lot to me. They’ve certainly been helpful to us.”
“Sir, I don’t even have any cash on me – just my debit card.”
“Officer,” he said more bluntly, “I’m GOING to go get you some gas. You wait here and I’ll be back soon.”
I was truly grateful. I just didn’t want to be a burden. And quite frankly, I was humiliated. But this was another of those God-moments: I just didn’t know it yet.
“Officer, I will need a favor from you, however.”
Here comes the catch, I thought…
“My wife will be coming out of that school in just a few minutes,” he said, pointing to an elementary school just north of the church parking lot we were in…
“She’ll come out of that gym door, and our son will be with her. As a matter of fact, you might even recognize her.”
“Oh,” I replied…
“Yeah.” He went on to explain.
“She’s Amber Hagerman’s mother. You know, Amber Hagerman, the little girl abducted and killed a few years back….the Amber Alert…”
“Oh, and Officer Meeks, my wife’s name is Donna…”
I stood there motionless. I had no idea that Amber’s family lived in my neighborhood. Amber was only 9-years old when she was killed. It had happened in 1996...
“Officer, when she sees you standing here, just assure her that everything is all right…”
“Of course,” I said, still somewhat numb from what he was saying…
He drove off to get my gas. I stood there looking for his wife. I was anxious to meet her. The murder of Amber had affected the whole country.
A minute or two later, I saw Donna exit the gym of the school. Sure enough, her son was with her.
I couldn’t help but notice the sorrowful look on Donna’s face. She’s a very pretty woman, but life had dealt her a hard blow.
When she was close enough, I spoke up….
“Everything is all right, ma’am. I’m Officer Meeks. I ran out of gas in my personal car and your hubby went to get me some. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.” I uttered the words with lightning speed…
“That’s ok,” she replied.
She walked toward her car, seeming to not be interested in any further conversation. Once inside, she stared out the front window. I leaned against my van.
She finally broke the silence…
“Officer, do you know who I am?
I leaned forward.
“Yes ma’am. You’re Amber’s mom. I’ve seen you on TV with the president. You’ve been an inspiration to the country…”
I seemed to be stumbling for words. I just didn’t know what to say. I could see the pain on her face. The tragedy was only about 4 year earlier, and such a blow takes the rest of one’s life to recover.
Donna mumbled something, but I wasn’t sure what. The silence then returned. I stood against my van: she sat quietly in her car.
A few moments passed and Donna spoke again…
“Officer Meeks, do you know what I miss the most?”
Her expression was so serious. I didn’t know what to say, but I made an effort.
“Ma’am... I have 5 daughters. I cannot begin to imagine what you must feel, what you’re going through, or what you miss the most.”
She answered her own question…
“I miss… combing her hair…”
I was way out of my league now. I had no words of comfort to offer this precious woman who had endured so much pain. A few years later, when I hosted a radio show, Donna was my guest. She caught me off guard during the interview by describing – in detail - what the killer had done to her daughter. Even as I type these words now, I can only sob as I recall what she told me. I’m tempted to share what she said, but I fear it would sicken you.
Fred returned with a can of gas. I poured it into my tank, started my engine, and off I went.
When I got home, I shed my uniform as fast as I could. I then went into the living and shouted loudly at my 4-year old daughter…
Lydia came running from her room. The volume of my voice made her think that I wanted to warn her about a tornado, and that we had better take cover.
“WHAT DADDY…WHAT’S WRONG…???
“I need you to come and sit with me….
And I need you to bring a brush with you…”
She didn’t argue. She retrieved a brush and came and sat on the floor in front of me. I spent the next few minutes brushing the hair of a beautiful little 4-year old girl.
I was heeding the advice Donna would later give me – and which I had heard a thousand times from other parents – “hug and hold them often.”
Amber’s killer has not been captured.