Two years ago tonight, the world lost a hero. Officer Stacy Case of the Columbia Police Department devoted her entire adult life to protecting and serving others. She died while rushing to do what she had so often done before: put herself in harm’s way so others would not have to.
It was a terrifying night in Columbia. I was a full-time reporter for ColaDaily.com, and I was at home around 10:15 p.m. when my phone started to buzz. The first message was from my friend Allison Willingham, now assistant publisher at Midlands Anchor. Allison was bartending in the Vista that night. She had heard a gunshot and wondered if I had heard what was happening. Other calls and texts followed, and I was soon on my way to the scene. Rumors were flying, people were frightened, and it was my job to let people know the facts.
I would soon learn that Officer Case, with a far more important job to do, had gotten a similar call a few minutes earlier, one that would tragically be her last. She was a North Region officer, and the Vista was not part of her beat. However, her duties that night had taken her out of her usual area, and she was on Assembly Street when the call came: shots fired near the intersection
of Gervais and Lincoln.
As Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook would tell me later, Officer Case never hesitated. Heroes don’t. “She radioed that she was nearby and was responding to assist,” Chief Holbrook said.
Officer Case served her country in the U.S. Army before becoming a police officer. She saw duty in Iraq among other places. She had almost without question heard the old military adage “March to the sound of the guns.” She understood what it means: a soldier’s job, a police officer’s job, is to rush into danger, not away from it. She never failed, not even on her last night.
She did just that on Nov. 7, 2015. She turned her patrol car and went with all possible speed toward the scene. All she knew was that shots had been fired. We would all learn later that the gunshot was a man taking his own life, but at the time, there was panic among the people Officer Case had sworn to protect, and as far as she knew, they were in danger.
She never reached the scene of the suicide. Her car collided with that of another hero on the same mission: University of South Carolina Police Sgt. Allan Bolin. Sgt. Bolin was injured but would recover. Officer Case died from injuries caused by the crash.
That isn’t the way we want a hero’s story to end. It isn’t the way it goes in books and movies. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, reflecting on the death of Officer Case, summed it up better than I could: “Too often we forget that our police officers are not superheroes. They wear a uniform, not a cape and tights, and everything doesn’t always work out by the end of the episode… Stacy Case was not a superhero. She was a hero.”
I never met Officer Case. I don’t feel the pain of her loss the way her family and friends and brothers and sisters in uniform do. I still feel it, enough to cry and to wonder why someone like her couldn’t have stayed with us longer than 37 years. On the day of her funeral, I learned more about her. I learned about the time she spent an entire off day volunteering at the Living Word Assembly of God Church.
“She had never been to the church. She had never met me. She knew nothing about me, but she came,” Rev. David Perkins of Living Word Assembly of God said. “She gave her time and she spent her day letting me tell her what to do.”
Understandably, at the end of the day, Rev. Perkins thanked Officer Case for her work. He did not forget her reply. I hope I never forget it either. “You don’t have to thank me,” Rev. Perkins said Officer Case told him. “I do this because I love this country and I love this community. I do it because I have the privilege to serve.”
“The privilege to serve.” We won’t all be called upon to lay down our lives the way Officer Case did. We do all have “the privilege to serve.” It’s a privilege too many of us too often neglect.
“People like Officer Case make us better,” Chief Holbrook said. She changed my life, though I never met her. I’ve thought of her often, of how she lived and how she died, and made an effort to be more like her. If we all try, and all succeed, even a tiny bit, in being more like her, Columbia and the world at large will be a better place. That impact, perhaps more than anything else, is the legacy of Officer Stacy Case. That’s what it means to be a hero.