TRUMANN, AR (KAIT) – The wife of a former Arkansas police officer spoke publicly for the first time to Region 8 News after his death. Andrea Schmidt, wife of former Trumann Police Officer Jonathan Schmidt, remembered the events leading to her husband's death and the dark weeks that followed.
"Jonathan and I knew each other our whole lives. We went to school together. It was at a homecoming football game here in town a few years after we graduated high school, and met up, hadn't seen each other in a couple of years, and it started from there," said Andrea, who married Jonathan September 4, 2004.
Andrea said she was sleeping on a late April night when she woke up to the sound of then Police Chief Tony Rusher knocking on the window. At first, she thought it was Jonathan.
"I walked to the front door and there is Tony Rusher and then Dale Parker and David Fagan, who is a volunteer firefighter here in town, but we're very close with them. He coached Haley three or four years in softball and we're very close with their family," said Andrea. "You know instantly when you have people standing at your door that something has happened and I was like I can't do this."
Schmidt said she rode with officers to a Jonesboro hospital, where she learned her husband had been shot multiple times.
"I remember seeing officers that work in Jonesboro that went to the academy with Jonathan. I remember seeing our friends that were officers for different agencies or friends that had gotten a phone call and they wanted to be there for us," said Andrea. "My thought was, 'Okay, he's been shot. We're going to get through this. He'll be in ICU. I don't know where he was shot. He might be paralyzed, and we're going to get through this. We're going to work through this. I know therapists. I know plenty of people in the medical field, and we're going to get through this.' That's exactly what was going through my head, and as I was praying furiously, that's exactly (how I felt). I just wanted him to be okay."
"I'm just sitting there in a daze, like what's going on, can anybody tell me anything? I don't know anything, and then the chaplain comes up and introduces himself and asks if we have a pastor," said Andrea. "As soon as I saw Dr. Short walking out of the room, I knew. He had that look, and I looked at him. He just kind of shook his head. I knew."
Andrea, also a mother, said the next few hours were a blur.
"I lost my best friend," said Andrea. "There's not one aspect of my life that has not been completely just turned upside down."
She said she waited to tell her children about the nightmare until they woke up later that morning.
"I woke Chase up. I said come on Chase, you need to come in Haley's room for a minute, and I went in there and woke Haley up, and sat down and told them. It broke my heart," said Andrea. "There is no way to describe the pain that a mother feels for her children, so going in there and having to tell them that their father had died and he would not be coming home, that was the hardest part of all of it."
According to police, Officer Schmidt was shot and killed by Jerry Lard on April 12, 2011 during a traffic stop at the Cottonwood Manor Apartments. Lard will appear in court for trial in July in Greene County. The State of Arkansas is seeking the death penalty.
Court documents filed in Poinsett County suggest Lard opened fire on Jonathan when the officer opened the car door. Sgt. Corey Overstreet was also injured during an ensuing exchange of gunfire, police said.
Jonathan was pronounced dead at NEA Baptist Memorial in Jonesboro less than two hours after the shooting, documents indicated.
"Every single time an officer puts on his uniform and walks out the door, he's putting his life on the line every day. You never know. You never know. Nothing is routine," said Andrea. "In law enforcement, you don't think about the dangers. You know it's there, but you don't think about it or dwell on it every day or you won't be able to live with it."
Andrea said that April night wasn't the only time her husband was in the face of danger.
"He wouldn't always tell me stories because he saw my reaction to other things, which then of course, I would be like, you need to tell me what happened. He didn't want to worry me. He didn't want me to be concerned. There were times, knives pulled on him and guns pulled on him and people that run from you or want to wrestle with you and fight with you and punch you, you know," said Andrea. "Jonathan was doing what he loved to do and what he believed in doing when this happened."
Andrea said Jonathan gave up a high paying job to become a police officer more than four years ago. She said Jonathan was all about protecting his family and community.
"He was like, 'I always wanted to be a police officer.' He said (it was) because I can help and make the town better. I can do things I can't do now not being a police officer, and that's the kind of person he was. He gave so much of himself. He was very selfless. He would help anybody," said Andrea. "We prayed about it a lot, but I supported Jonathan. He's not going to make a decision that would hurt us in any way. He was thinking about his family and his community."
After the shooting, Andrea said the community and some organizations she never heard of offered help to her family in time of need.
"It overwhelmed me then and it overwhelms me now to know how many people were willing to take their time and make sure that my kids had food on the table and that our bills were paid. There was no stress on me. They wanted to make sure that we were taken care of," said Andrea. "A lot of people who have came to our help never met him, but he was a police officer. He was their brother, and they are going to do whatever they can to support us."
Andrea referenced a special retreat for victims of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
"COPS stands for Concerns of Police Survivors, and I remember Linda Craig who is the chapter president in Arkansas. I remember her coming to the house," said Andrea. "(They are people) who can, when they say, 'I'm sorry, I understand what you're going through,' you know, absolutely that they understand."
"You don't ever get real closure. It's not real. You learn to deal with what you've been given, and do it as gracefully as you can without anger and vengeance because that will eat you alive," said Andrea.
Officer Schmidt to be Honored
In May, Jonathan Schmidt's name will be added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, DC. Members of the Trumann Ambulance Service and the community will be raising money in April to help pay for the trip, which will be taken by immediate family members of Jonathan and a few officers.
"The family has to have a police escort from the department that the officer worked for. Andrea has chosen Patrolman Jarrod Cook to be her escort and Sgt. Overstreet, who was there that night with Jonathan," said Randi Parker with Trumann Ambulance Service.
Parker said the ambulance service will hold a special raffle fundraiser for the Schmidt family May 5th at 1:00 that afternoon. People interested in the raffle can purchase a $2 ticket. The raffle's grand prize is worth up to $900. Parker said donations are also accepted.
"The grand prize is donated by Greenway Equipment. They gave us a steel weed eater and a steel backpack blower. The Trumann Walmart has donated a push lawn mower," said Parker.
To register, you can pick up tickets at Trumann City Hall, Trumann Police and Fire Departments, Trumann Ambulance Service, Arkansas Police Supply in Jonesboro and Trent's Gun and Pawn in Jonesboro.
"It's like an empty feeling. You never expect it to be here. You never expect it to be on your own doorstep," said Parker, whose husband was also working with TPD the night of the shooting.
"When I got my phone that night and I was in the car, I opened it up and there was a text message from Jonathan at 10:57 that said, 'Goodnight. Love you. I hope you sleep well.' At 11:27, he made the traffic stop and everything changed," said Andrea.
Andrea said she keeps Jonathan's old Bible in her home next to a photo album to help cherish her life with her husband.
"God's plan is seen through circumstances. It was not God's plan for that to happen. That was evil in this world. That man made that decision on his own free will to do that to my husband," said Andrea. "I would rather spend every day of my life being sad than to have one day of anger or hate in my heart."