Zachary, Louisiana - May 17th
By: Linda Searles, Community Director
Officer Christopher Lawton, known to friends and family as Chris, was more than just a police officer and firefighter, he was an outstanding husband, father, friend, and citizen. To his community, the small town of Zachary, LA, he was a leader and role model, taken away from us well before his time. Chris was tragically killed in the line-of-duty while attempting to serve a felony warrant; a senseless death for a local hero and 10-year veteran of the force. Within days of the tragedy, I was in touch with the department and began to learn about a community that changed my life.
It all started with a phone call to our Warehouse from Kristina Graham; a Zachary paramedic that receives the 911 emergency calls. She contacted Thin Blue Line USA, ordering several hundred police & firefighter bracelets for the people of her community, following the loss of Officer Lawton. We began talking about what the people were going through in the community and how Thin Blue Line USA wanted to help the community by beginning a fundraiser in memory of Officer Lawton. Kristina contacted Shannon Lawton, Chris’s wife, about our upcoming donations and how she would best like the money to be used.
I wanted to do more for this community, I felt the impact of their pain, I shared in their grief and felt compelled to meet these people that I had become familiar with. As I talked more to Kristina and began conversations with Shannon, they shared with me how the community was putting on several events to honor Chris were and I wanted to be a part of the memorials. In the spirit of world-famous southern hospitality, I was invited to Zachary to engage with the community, and meet the wonderful people behind this love. Upon arriving, Kristina had a lovely remembrance dinner, the Missing Man Honors Table. The Lawton family was there, along Chris’s partner Chad and his wife. The evening was filled with compassion and heartfelt retellings of how Chris impacted their lives.
The Missing Man Honors Table is very symbolic. The table is round -- to show our everlasting concern for our missing man, Chris. The tablecloth is white symbolizing the purity of Chris’s motives when answering the call to duty. The single red rose, displayed in the vase, reminded us of his life, and the loved ones and friends of Chris who keep the faith. The vase was tied with a red and blue ribbon, symbolizing Chris’s role in law enforcement and as a firefighter. A slice of lemon on the bread plate was to remind us of the bitter fate of Chris no longer with us. A pinch of salt symbolized the tears endured by Chris’s family and friends who seek answers. The Bible represented the strength gained through faith to sustain life without Chris. The drinking glass was inverted to symbolize Chris’s inability to share in the evening's toast. Finally, the chairs around the table were left empty; a somber reminder of the men and women that have given us everything.
The days moved quickly while I was in Zachary and I finally had the opportunity to meet with Shannon Lawton and her family at her mother’s home. We hugged and cried I began absorbing this unthinkable tragedy that this family was going through. Shannon showed such courage and strength and as we were saying our final goodbyes, I thought to myself, she is my hero. To me a hero is a wife, like Shannon, who thinks to preserve her husband’s dignity, moments after discovering that he’ll never wake up again; their two children, Marshall and Claire, saying their final goodbyes after watching hundreds of police officers and firefighters do the same; they are heroes. Officer Christopher Lawton is a hero, just like all those who take the oath to uphold the law, to protect the rights of strangers, and if necessary, to lay down their own lives to protect another.
There are many beautiful and uplifting things in life, like the people I met in Zachary, but there is also loss. Tragic deaths are a stark reminder of the dangers our law enforcement professionals face each and every day while protecting and serving our communities. Too often, their service and sacrifice are taken for granted. Let’s not forget all that they do and how much they sacrifice every day.