In the five years since Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Suzanne Hopper was killed in the line of duty, she’s been memorialized in ways both large and small.
Thousands of people who never knew the mother of two drive the stretch of Interstate 70 named for her every day.
Her name is etched among 20,000 other fallen officers at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., and an Ohio law was created in her honor that has improved officer safety by better informing them about individuals with mental illness.
People from around the world sent letters and artwork to the sheriff’s office, pieces that have been collected along with dozens of commemorative plaques, medals and photos in an enormous case inside the department’s downtown headquarters.
And a local volleyball fundraiser for the Special Olympics started by Hopper in 2008 has grown in the years since her death to include more than a dozen teams annually. More than $10,000 has been raised for the organization in her name.
But for those who knew her best — as Sue, as Waughtel before her second marriage, as the woman with the infectious giggle who was the gullible subject of other deputy’s pranks — it’s the private ways they honor her that mean the most.
“It’s not about how she died, it’s about how she lived,” fellow-deputy and friend Wendy Donovan said. “Sometimes it seems like an eternity, and then other days it’s like it was last week.”
Donovan has worn a bracelet with, “CCSO Unit 1269,” Hopper’s badge number, every day since her friend’s death. She and many others have tattoos honoring Hopper.
“A lot of people have their thing, or their story,” Donovan said. “Probably knowing that all these people are walking around with her name or her number… I think she’d get a kick out of it.”
For some friends, rainbows make them think of Hopper.
“New Year’s Day it was warm,” friend Miste Adams remembers. She was at Indian Lake, drinking coffee as fog rolled in. Then suddenly the fog cleared and a gorgeous rainbow appeared. “And it would have been about the same time (that she died),” Adams said.
‘A day I’ll never forget’
Hopper, 40, was shot at 11:35 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2011. She was responding to a call about shots fired into a camper at the Enon Beach Campground when she was ambushed by Michael Ferryman, a man who’d been found not guilty by reason of insanity following a violent encounter with law enforcement in Morgan County a decade earlier.
Dozens of officers and deputies from surrounding jurisdictions responded to the officer down call and engaged in a shootout with Ferryman, who fired upon anyone attempting to help Hopper.
Fellow deputies said they don’t like to relive that day, preferring to remember their friend’s smile and laugh instead.
Some can’t bring themselves to visit her grave site, while others go every year, Donovan said.
For Sheriff Gene Kelly, it’s a day he can’t forget.
“When they called and told me Suzanne had been shot, I knew she was one of these people five years ago who was religious about wearing her vest. And I thought, she’s OK,” he said.
But when he arrived at the campground, one of his sergeants pointed from where he was taking cover behind a tree. Hopper was on the ground and no one could get to her.
“I was looking and trying to see if she was breathing,” Kelly said.
He still gets choked up describing how he tried to crawl to her and pull her to safety but couldn’t.
“It’s a tough thing to think about,” he said.
People nationwide saw images of the shootout captured by media that day, including one Springfield News-Sun photo that was later named to Life Magazine’s most memorable photos of the year.
But the image that stands out in Kelly’s mind from that day was the, “sea of black and gold.”
“I looked up at one point and there was just a sea of deputies. Deputies heard about it, saw it on the TV… just put their uniforms on and came to work,” he said.
The multitude of uniforms was even larger at Hopper’s funeral on Jan. 7, when thousands of law enforcement officers from across the country drove a 1,600-vehicle procession through Clark County and stood in a heavy snowfall to lay her to rest.
Hopper’s parents, Charles and Bonnie Bauer, were fixtures at many of the ceremonies honoring her in years past, but said they weren’t in a place to talk about the tragedy this year.
Her husband Matthew Hopper died in 2014 at the age of 38, following a battle with cancer.
In addition to her parents, Suzanne Hopper is survived by her children Emily Bauer and Charles Waughtel and her step-children Madeleine and Cole Hopper.
‘She gave what she didn’t have’
It’s fitting that Hopper’s name is now attached to the volleyball tournament she championed, her friends said, because getting people together was what she loved.
“She believed in the brotherhood, the sisterhood,” Donovan said. “She was definitely the one who went above and beyond to get people together, outings outside of work, while at work, checking on people.”
She was the one to organize a softball game, then buy everyone a T-shirt. She was the one who bought gifts for coworkers welcoming new babies.
Hopper brought a cheering section when she competed in the Police Olympics, winning multiple gold medals in the bench press, dead-lift and push-pull categories.
“Anything that we were involved in while Suzanne was here, she’s the one that put it together,” Donovan said.
And everything came out of her own pocket, even though she had a family to support.
“She spent money she didn’t have just to make sure somebody else had it. That was Suzanne,” said Deputy George Bennett.
Special Olympics was important to Hopper because her daughter Emily, now 24, has special needs.
Hopper used to volunteer with the annual Ohio Law Enforcement Torch Run leading up to the summer games. Now Emily carries the torch around the block in Springfield each year before handing it off to the runners.
This year’s Suzanne Hopper Memorial Tournament will be on March 4 at Tecumseh High School.
Hopper’s giving spirit extended to total strangers she met in the line of duty.
“She was the type of person who would go out on a call and then go back and check up on people,” Donovan said.
She was known to go to the hospital on her own time to follow up with people she’d encountered while on duty, said retired deputy Lara Alexander.
Hopper once sat with and counseled a friend’s son who was headed down a path toward juvenile detention, Adams said. When the boy turned things around and graduated high school, she was there to give him a hug and tell him how proud she was.
“That’s what he remembers” about Hopper, Adams said.
‘The true public servant’
Hopper’s sister married a police officer, which she said inspired her to go into law enforcement.
It was a natural fit, Donovan said.
“I think she had the best personality for it. She was a people person,” she said.
Hopper worked several roles during her nearly 12-year tenure with the CCSO, including in the jail, on road patrol and as a D.A.R.E. officer.
Kids she worked with have told deputies they remember her from D.A.R.E. and that she had an impact on them.
She gave 100 percent to every job she was assigned, her coworkers said, but dreamed of becoming a detective.
“She loved her job,” Donovan said. “She was the true public servant. She was there to protect and serve. She lived it, breathed it.”
On the day she died, she’d volunteered to work overtime. Friends joked that she could only outdo herself by working 24 hours a day.
Coworkers all have stories of coming upon Hopper doing something a bit crazy in the name of helping someone.
One day it was climbing on top of an overturned car to help a person trapped inside, another it was putting on a fireman’s boots and wading into a pond to pull out a drunk driver.
“She was full of courage and drive,” Bennett said.
Since her death, people in the community have let deputies know how much of an impact she had.
“I’ve had people that when the (volleyball) shirts go on sale, say, ‘I want to buy a shirt, just to remember her,’” Adams said.
A woman stopped Alexander at Kroger when she was wearing a T-shirt with Hopper’s name on it.
“She genuinely said, ‘That was such a horrible, horrible thing that happened, and I think about her a lot.’”
Hopper’s legacy of professionalism and caring lives on in the way deputies interact with each other and the community.
Whereas Hopper used to have to beg her fellow officers to come out for a softball game only to have six people show up, Donovan said, the department had three full teams for last year’s volleyball tournament and has worked to get the younger deputies involved in local events.
“We did donkey basketball last year, which (Suzanne) would have loved,” Donovan said.