By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
CORSICANA — Brent Thompson was such an authentic, constant hero to his family that his younger brother Darrell struggled to grasp the outside world’s outpouring of support and keen focus on the fallen Dallas Area Rapid Transit police officer after he died in a sniper’s ambush in downtown Dallas on July 7.
“He put himself in harm’s way to protect and save lives of his fellow officers and the citizens of Dallas, Texas,” Darrell told more than 1,000 mourners gathered at Corsicana High School for a candlelight prayer vigil on July 10. “He is a hero, but our family already knew that.”
People around the nation and world learned what his family always had known about Thompson, 43, who joined DART in 2009 and was the agency’s first officer to die in the line of duty.
Four Dallas Police Department officers also died in the sniper attack that occurred during a peaceful protest march.
The candlelight vigil in Thompson’s hometown drew officers from many law enforcement agencies and hundreds of friends of the Thompson family.
“They are the salt of the earth,” said Belinda Taylor, who graduated from Corsicana High School in 1990 with the late Officer Thompson and was his friend since the fifth grade. “Their family always had that presence that would put you at ease. What I remember most is Brent’s humor and how he always made you feel happy and that he was someone you could trust.”
On July 9, an emotional tide swept down Interstate 45 as a solemn motorcade and police escort of Thompson’s hearse traveled the 55-mile route south to Corsicana, a town of 24,000 in which his father, Sam, had retired after long service as a teacher, coach and athletic director for the Corsicana Independent School District, and where his brother Lowell is the Navarro County district attorney.
Father Marco Rangel, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, led worshipers for the Saturday Anticipatory Mass outside onto the church’s lawn to stand curbside and pay their respects along Texas Highway 22 as Thompson’s hearse passed by.
“It was very emotional for me,” said Deacon Lewis Palos, who will mark 50 years in law enforcement in September. “It hurts every police officer a lot. There’s a strong brotherhood among officers. It was moving, encouraging and incredible to see the motorcade and such a show of support.”
Deacon Palos, who knew Thompson since he was a child, said that the community remains in shock.
“We’re very proud of Brent’s service,” said Deacon Palos, who spent 42 years With the Corsicana Police Department and now serves as a part-time reserve officer with the Navarro County Sheriff’s Department. “The danger is always there. We’ll stick together.”
Thompson was a newlywed who would have turned 44 on July 26.
His survivors include wife Emily, whom he had married on June 21 and who is a fellow DART officer; six children from his 24-year marriage to Sondra; his parents, Sam and Paulette; two brothers and their families; beloved grandchildren, and extended family and countless friends and colleagues.
Vicky Morrison, the principal of James L. Collins Catholic School in Corsicana and a former teacher in the Corsicana ISD, said that the tragedy spurred an outpouring of love for a family well-known and admired for its integrity.
“During this time of sadness, we reflect on the lives of the Thompson family,” said Morrison, who has known the family for decades and is a neighbor of Lowell. “The Thompsons have been servant leaders in our community through education, law enforcement and city government.
“Brent Thompson is a true hero who gave his life for the good of others.”
Officer Joseph Kyser, Thompson’s DART partner and a 2003 Bishop Lynch High School graduate, gave an impromptu tribute during the July 10 candlelight vigil in Corsicana and a moving set of tender recollections during Thompson’s public funeral at The Potter’s House in Dallas on July 13.
Kyser told pews filled with Thompson’s family, friends and police officers from DART and many other law enforcement agencies that his partner, a former Marine, was a “valiant warrior” and a “notorious jokester” who loved his family with all his heart and was a paragon of trustworthy service.
“Brent was an inspiration to everyone who knew him,” said Kyser, who fought tears as he described memorable pranks and endearing experiences that sealed their partnership.
The tears overtook Kyser when he reached his tribute’s conclusion: “I love you, brother—You are with us always.”
DART police chief James Spiller called Thompson a great and highly respected officer.
“He was in great spirits from his recent marriage,” Spiller said on CNN’s “New Day.”
Emily, who spoke at her husband’s funeral service, said that he was an “all-around phenomenal guy” who taught her about her own strength.
She assured the mourners that the coward who ambushed her husband and the four slain Dallas Police Department officers never would break the family of public servants.
“Good will always prevail,” Emily said as she tried hard not to cry. “We shall not let the act of a coward break us.”
Rick Lamb, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Corsicana—the family’s church—conducted the public funeral and said that a service later on July 13 would precede Thompson’s burial at a cemetery on the family farm.
Pastor Lamb described the heart for service displayed by Thompson, a graduate of the Navarro College Police Academy, during his law enforcement career, which included positions with the Navarro County Sheriff’s Department; the Corsicana SWAT Team; the Corsicana Independent School District police department, and DART.
Thompson also worked in private security and as an international police liaison in Afghanistan and Iraq.
During President Obama’s speech at the July 12 interfaith unity memorial service at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the president cited Thompson’s service as a Marine, status as a newlywed and willingness to do contract work in Afghanistan and Iraq.
During the candlelight vigil on July 10, Navarro County Sheriff Elmer Tanner spoke of heroism and called Thompson a difference-maker. And then Sheriff Tanner bid him farewell:
“Rest easy, my brother,” the sheriff said. “We’ll take it from here.”