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Officer Shot in the Line of Duty Co-Chairs Tree of Lights Campaign

In this segment of KSMU's Sense of Community Series, Michele Skalicky has an update on Aaron Pearson and his family.  Pearson was shot in the line of duty as a  Springfield police officer earlier this year.  He and his wife, Amanda, are now giving back to a community that rallied behind them after the shooting.

January 26, 2015 is a day that forever changed the life of a Springfield Police officer and his family.  Early that morning while much of Springfield was sleeping, Aaron Pearson was shot in the head while investigating suspicious activity near Chestnut and Glenstone.

Doctors didn’t know if he would survive, and if he did, they said he might not speak again.  What was known for sure was that his career as a law enforcement officer was over.

The community rallied around the Pearsons and raised more than half a million dollars for the family, which includes two young children.

Today, Pearson has made great strides toward recovery, and he and his wife, Amanda, are starting to give back to a community that came to their aid when they needed it most. 

The Pearsons are co-chairs of the Salvation Army’s Tree of Lights Campaign, which raises one-third to one-half of the organization’s operating budget each year.  And Amanda said they’re honored to serve.

"We are so excited that we can help give back to the community and just affect so many this way," she said.

She said they’re giving back to the community one step at a time as much as they can.  When they were asked to co-chair the campaign, they didn’t hesitate.

"Immediately, you know, we thought it was right up our alley, something we wanted to do, and, you know, spreading the story of what Aaron went through, our walk and everything that happened and giving back to the community is what we want to do now with our time and so we thought thought this was the perfect opportunity," she said.

Immediately following Pearson’s shooting, community organizations, businesses and individuals stepped up to raise money for the family, including Bigfish Screenprinting.  They sold t-shirts as part of a campaign called “I See You,” to let officers know the public is aware of the service they provide to the community.  Marketing director at Bigfish, Tony Williams, said they presented a cardboard check in the amount of $14,000 at a Springfield Cardinals game and a real check to the Pearsons at the Springfield Police Station.

"We didn't know that officer Pearson was gooing to be there, but him and his wife were there, so we got to kind of meet him a little bit, which is a great opportunity and such a loving family.  They were so appreciative of everything that the community had done for them, and it's just awesome that they want to give back to a community that's supported them in their time of need as well," he said.

Williams said giving back is woven into the fabric of the business.  After the Joplin tornado in 2011, Bigfish raised more than $100,000 for that community.  They’ve since started a nonprofit organization, called Your Identi-tees where anyone can raise money by selling t-shirts. 

Gailey’s Breakfast Café also stepped up to help the Pearsons by giving a day’s worth of proceeds and tips to the family.  Manager Ethan Edwards said six employees volunteered to work and give up their tips.

"We put a little message board out and said, 'who would like to volunteer?'  We got enough people to volunteer," he said.

And the Pearsons are grateful for the community that continues to support them.  Amanda said she hopes by serving as co-chairs of Tree of Lights, they can make a difference.

The Salvation Army helps around 3300 individuals each year in the Christmas assistance program.  It operates two shelters year-round along with a daily feeding program, after school programs, summer day camp, a senior citizens program, a food pantry and an emergency social services office. 

The goal of this year’s Tree of Lights campaign is $950,000. 

Amanda Long, the Salvation Army’s development director, calls Aaron Pearson’s path to recovery a miracle.  She said the Pearsons are the perfect choice to chair the Tree of Lights campaign because the Salvation Army is constantly performing miracles in people’s lives because of community support.

"And everytime we get to see them or meet with them they always both have smiles on their faces and they're asking, 'what can we do?  How can we help?  We want to help the community that has given so much to us," she said.

Amanda Pearson thinks back on the many ways people stepped up to help after the shooting—the officers who stayed at the hospital around the clock in the days afterwards, the prayers, the fundraisers and turning porch lights to blue.

"The list goes on and on, you know, this is just one small thing we can do to put a dent into what they did for us, and that's what we want to continue doing--helping the community and giving back because they gave us so much," she said.

She said they’ve had to find a new normal.  Before the shooting, she and Aaron were both working full-time—she as a school teacher—and both were working on their Masters degrees.  She said they have more free time now. And they’re doing well.

"Just cherishing life everyday and saying a little prayer thanking God for each day that we get.  It's--it's good," she said.

Amanda does much of the talking when she and Aaron are asked to speak at events.  Aaron still struggles with speech, but he’s come a long way since the day of the injury.  He serves as his wife’s cheer leader, but he doesn’t shy away from contributing to the conversation.

"Amanda's doing a very good job.  She knows more than me and that's why she's the one saying everything, that's why.  I'll say as more as I can here in a little bit," he said.

Amanda calls her husband “a miracle” and says she doesn’t think he realizes how close he came to not talking or walking again.  But Aaron does know how much the community has done for him.

"Yeah, it's something that's just hard for me now, and I'm the way, I just want to do as much as I can for some of the people here in Springfield.  I'm trying to do as much as I can and know.  I'm just doing as much as I can.  That's all I can really say," he said.

They were heartened to see the officers who helped Aaron after the shooting, established a perimeter and who contacted Amanda receive an award for their courage.  The seven officers were given Meritorious Service Awards in November.

And Aaron was awarded the Purple Heart from the Springfield Police Department at a ceremony last month.

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