Andrew Dys

A hard year to remember for dad of slain officer

When two cops get shot in the head and die, as two did a year ago Monday, you remember everything.

You remember that one policeman was named Jeff Shelton. He worked in Charlotte and lived in Locust, N.C., but got his hair cut every couple weeks by a barber nicknamed "Wormy" on Fort Mill's Main Street. You remember that Shelton kicked the winning field goal in high school in Monroe, N.C., and how he jumped into a friend's arms on the field with joy, and you remember the father had that picture on a shelf.

You remember the father lives in Fort Mill, and the father's name is John Shelton.

You remember that John Shelton laughed about your old 1986 Mercury Cougar with the big V-8 motor because he restores Corvettes and T-Birds and loves muscle cars. Then, you remember that the last time John Shelton saw his son was at a car show at Knights Stadium the same morning before the son was shot that night. You remember Jeff's stepmother, Wanda, wanted cotton candy at that car show, and Jeff bought one for her, of course. So, you ask the father of a dead man how he is doing a year later.

"This is a hard week, after a hard year," John Shelton said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers Jeff Shelton, 35, and Sean Clark, 34, were shot March 31, 2007. Both died April 1. The man police say did it remains in custody; a trial is pending.

Today in Charlotte, where Jeff Shelton is buried, his family will gather.

"It's down past a pond, beautiful," John Shelton said of the spot where his son is buried.

After Jeff Shelton's death, a park in Locust was dedicated to him. There are plaques in the park detailing the life he lived.

"A beautiful place," John Shelton said.

The little road into the park is called Jeff Shelton Drive.

One guy who has been to that park, helped with it and was there for the grand opening is a Rock Hill Police officer named John Rainier. Rainier was best man at Jeff Shelton's wedding years ago. They had been in the Marines together.

John Rainier gave the toast at Jeff Shelton's wedding with his face covered with cuts because he had SWAT training a few days before the wedding and had fallen face-first after getting jolted with a stun gun. John Rainier gave a eulogy at Jeff Shelton's funeral, after Rainier had a broken nose fixed from a scuffle during a late-night incident in Rock Hill.

John Rainier protects people you know every day.

Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark did, too.

John Rainier, and his wife, Melanie, after Jeff Shelton's death, started a nonprofit and worked to raise money for fallen officers. The Forever Blue Foundation. On the Internet, foreverbluefoundation.org.

A summer fundraiser last year raised more than $15,000. Almost another $10,000 came through a motorcycle rally. More fundraisers will come this spring, summer and fall.

So, I asked John Rainier what he will do Monday for the anniversary of his best friend's death.

"I plan to go up to where Jeff was shot and do a ride-along," Rainier said.

Just before midnight Monday, for just a few minutes, at Charlotte's police memorial that shows a statue of two policemen, across the street from the main station at the corner of Davidson Street and Trade Street, the intersection will be closed.

Police officers from Charlotte, Rock Hill, York County and so many other places will take time away from their families, in the dark night like when Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark were killed, and those people will remember both.

John Rainier from Rock Hill will be right there.

John Shelton from Fort Mill, the father, will be there.

I asked John Shelton if he had any advice about how to live life, after somehow making it through the last year.

"Don't leave a thing unsaid," John Shelton said. "Don't forget to tell your kids you love 'em. See the people you don't think you have time to see. Take the trip to see them. Because tomorrow may never come."

  Comments