If going the extra mile is commendatory, and it is, then this that follows is a story of a law enforcement agency whose members climbed the summit.
Four years ago, an engraved headstone was found in a ditch alongside a highway in Lewis County. Every effort made to properly locate the baby’s memorial marker was unsuccessful.
“Many times when making my rounds to turn out the lights at night and lock the doors, I’d see the small gravestone marker lying there in the properties room and I’d think . . .”Photo by Debra Hensley, Support Tech II, Evidence Division, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
Her voice broke as she struggled for composure, fighting back the tears, and then, finishing her thought she said, “and I’d think this little guy needs a home. He needs to be with his family.”
Isabelle Williams is the Property Director for the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. On the Sheriff’s Office website she writes, “It is our goal to get property back to its rightful owner. We get a great deal of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment returning property to its owner – especially those treasured items that are irreplaceable and that they thought were lost forever.”
No doubt the highlight reel of most treasured moments for having found rightful places for irreplaceable items will be the laying to rest this July 25 of the gravestone that read “Martin Edwin Brooks, 1942-1942.”
Same year of life, and death. Hardly is there a greater grief the heart of a young mother can know than the loss of one who she never had opportunity to but briefly hold.
That was a major motivation of the officers and staff in the Property Division of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. They are mothers too.
Since 2012, the gravestone had been stored in the Property Room of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. It had been found along a highway in Lewis County. Though Williams and fellow officers and staff placed announcements of the find on social media, local newspapers, and contacted “mortuaries, cemeteries and monument companies from Centralia to Vancouver,” according to KOMO News which picked up the story, there was little – as in mostly nonexistent – in the way of leads that answered any of the many questions: who was Martin Edwin Brooks? That his year of death matched his year of birth, how did he die? Seventy-four years had elapsed and who was alive who might have known about him? These and many other questions, including how the tiny headstone had come by its location alongside a highway, remained unanswered.
Then Alice Nelson, one of the millions of volunteers utilizing “Find a Grave” – which organization exists “to find, record and present final disposition information from around the world as a virtual cemetery experience” – saw the KOMO story and contacted a fellow find-a-grave researcher, who in turn was able to determine the names of the deceased grandparents of Martin Edwin Brooks.
A flurry of emails were then exchanged between the internet sleuths, Williams, and Debra Hensley, Support Tech in the Evidence Division, at the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office all keeping their fingers crossed that a home would soon be found for the mystery gravestone.
Stacy Brown, Chief of the Special Services Bureau of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, wrote the grave-finder duo, “I am so excited that you have gotten so much closer to finding out where we can lay this sweet baby’s headstone.”
On the morning of July 25, with uniformed officers and staff from 78 miles away looking on, Joanne Clark, secretary of the little wooded cemetery where the baby’s grandparents are buried in Port Orchard, knelt next to the small shallow space dug the night before by her husband and smoothed the soil with her hands as the headstone was finally laid to rest near family.
‘As cops we care that each and every case is treated with respect and dignity,’ was the common theme expressed at the graveside.
‘And we’ve also children of our own.’
‘That’s why we’re happy to share this story. Because all lives matter.’
About the author: David Anderson served as Police Chaplain with the Tacoma Police Department and later the Lakewood Police Department. As a graduate of Northwest Baptist Seminary he pastored Whidbey Island Evangelical Free Church and served several interim pastorates. David officiated at the graveside-marker memorial service for Martin Edwin Brooks. David and his family own and operate Bill’s Boathouse on American Lake and he writes frequently for The Suburban Times. David is brother to Alice Nelson, find-a-grave sleuth extraordinaire.