Ceremony, memorial to honor officer fatally shot 10 years ago

Published 4:38 pm Friday, November 25, 2022

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By Kirsti Marohn

It’s been 10 years since an ambush shooting claimed the life of Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker and shook this small central Minnesota community to its core.

On Nov. 29, 2012, Decker responded to a call for a welfare check of a man living in an apartment above Winners Bar in Cold Spring. When Decker got out of his squad car, he was shot and killed.

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He will be honored at a commemoration ceremony at 1 p.m. Sunday at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Cold Spring.

Among those scheduled to speak are family members of Decker, St. Joseph police officer Brian Klinefelter and Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick. All three died in the line of duty.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer and St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler also are scheduled to speak, along with current Cold Spring Police Chief Jason Blum and Phil Jones, who was the police chief in 2012.

There’s also an effort underway to raise money to erect a memorial in Cold Spring to honor Decker and all law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

“It’s so good to know people are not forgetting the sacrifice that my son made, and also all the police officers who have died,” said Decker’s mother, Rosella. “There’s been a lot of them around Minnesota that have died in the line of duty. And I know firsthand the hurt in your heart, and how horrible the feeling is when you lose somebody you love so much.”

Decker’s killing was a traumatic event for Cold Spring, a small town west of St. Cloud with about 4,200 residents. Thousands of people attended his funeral, including law enforcement officers from across Minnesota.

Rumors swirled about who was responsible for the shooting, which remained unsolved for years.

In August 2013, investigators said they had the evidence to suspect that a 31-year-old man named Eric Thomes was the shooter. Police had gone to Thomes’ home to question him in January 2013 when he locked himself in a shed and died by suicide.

The case wasn’t officially closed until 2018, more than five years after Decker’s death.

Chuck Waletzko, a volunteer with the memorial project, said the goal is to support law enforcement and make sure Decker’s memory is never forgotten.

“I remember crying watching the Decker funeral on TV, and thinking how sad that is for this family and this community,” Waletzko said. He recalls people holding signs reading, “We’ll never forget your sacrifice” and “We’ll never forget.”

“And yet, people get older, memories fade, people move,” Waletzko said.

The GoFundMe effort aims to raise $60,000 to erect a granite and bronze statue of a police officer holding the hand of a young boy eating an ice cream cone.

When Tom Decker was about 7 years old, he was shopping at the mall with his older sister when they got separated. A police officer bought him an ice cream cone and waited with him until he was reunited with his sister, Rosella Decker said.

“That made an impression on Tommy,” she said. “I think that’s what gave him the idea ‘I want to be a police officer – somebody there to help.’ That was always in Tommy’s make-up, that he would help people.”