CANTON, Mo. — A Culver Stockton criminal justice professor’s successful program honoring law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty will soon give students the chance to pay tribute to firefighters as well.

Hannibal native and Lewis County Sheriff’s Deputy Seth McBride served with the Hannibal Police Department from 2003 to 2012, and he wanted to honor law enforcement officers who gave the ultimate sacrifice through the volunteer-driven Fallen Officer Project Campaign he created in 2018. Last year, the campaign raised funds for WHOH Detroit and Supporting Heroes. McBride and his wife, Kayla, were invited to attend the Heroes Tribute Gala in Owensboro, Ky., which inspired a way to pay tribute to firefighters as well.

Supporting Heroes Missouri State Director Brian Zinanni invited the McBrides to the event including 500-600 people encompassing families of fallen first responders in law enforcement, firefighting EMS and corrections, supporters and agency representatives like State Fire Marshal Tim Bean.

The McBrides sat down and talked with two families who had lost loved ones in the line of duty as firefighters — a widow and her children who lost her husband and a mother and father who lost their son. McBride struck up a conservation with the father of an aviation firefighter who had passed away, answering his questions about the Fallen Officer Project Campaign. He told McBride if he were to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty, he would like to include his son. In 2020, the Fallen Officer project also honored health care workers in their fight against COVID-19 through a virtual format. McBride had been considering a tribute for firefighters, but he felt the time wasn’t quite right. At the gala, everything fell into place.

“It kind of was one of those subliminal messages — ‘Wow, I’ve been thinking about this, and now I’ve got this parent I just met who was very moved by the Fallen Officer Project and to ask something like that,’” he said.

The gala included a ceremony with officers from various branches gathering on stage, with several chairs and tables in front of them. Each candle on the table represented an officer who died in the line of duty, and the candle stayed lit and the seat remained empty in tribute. At the conclusion, the widow of a firefighter who passed away talked about the trials she faced.

“It was a very humbling experience. My wife and I were glad to be there to experience it, and I plan on hopefully returning to that gala in the years to come. It’s something that is very moving and it goes along with why I created the Fallen Officer Project — to recognize these heroes,” McBride said. “I thought this was a nice time to make an announcement also about expanding into fallen firefighters to be recognized in the project as well.”

Each spring, McBride carefully selects a group of nine or ten students to enroll in his In the Line of Duty class and participate in the Fallen Officer Project. The selected students spend the second week of the project researching and reaching out to the family of the fallen officer. Each student presents an in-class project honoring the legacy of the officer, and each year funds are raised which benefit families of those who died in the line of duty.

McBride commended community members and Culver-Stockton College for their support of the Fallen Officer Project from the beginning to the present day. And in the future, McBride is preparing to make another announcement regarding the project.

“It’s time to further that and to recognize more of our community heroes,” he said.

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