9 Investigates

Remembering fallen firefighter Richard Sheltra one year later

PINEVILLE, N.C. — Linay Sheltra sits quietly on the bumper of Pineville fire engine 73, which has been dedicated in her son's honor.

Richard Sheltra was only 20 years old when he lost his life fighting a fire April 30, one year ago.


His mother holds on to their last conversation that day.

"As a family, we never leave each other without saying, ‘I love you.’ And that's the last words I heard out of Richard, was, ‘I love you, mom. I’ll see you soon.’ Most of all I miss that hug and that, ‘I love you,’" Linay Sheltra said.

[PHOTOS of Richard Sheltra]

Mike Sheltra beams with pride remembering his son.

"We all miss his smile. He just had a piercing smile. You could feel the love and the care," he said.

Watch Part 1 of Paul Boyd's report here:

Richard Sheltra’s sister, Tyler, looks back at her time with her younger brother with tears in her eyes, but then bursts into laughter when she mentions his love of chocolate chip cookies.

"(He loved) Harris Teeter chocolate chip cookies, until he tried mine. And then I took the lead (from) Harris Teeter," Tyler Sheltra said.

And while the laughter comes more easily now, it's been a very difficult year for this family.

The Sheltra's said God has given them the strength to persevere.

"What got me though Richard's death is Philippians 4: '(I) can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,' and that verse has lifted me up, has kept me going," Richard’s mother said.

"If I had no faith, I'd be in a much darker place," his father said.

Shortly after those words, the sun broke through on our interview location on a cloudy day. The Sheltras joked that was Richard saying hello.

"When it comes to faith, Richard had a huge faith and Richard loved Jesus," Tyler Sheltra said.

And Richard's mom also mentions the love and support they've received from the fire department, the community and her church.

"Forest Hill Church has lifted us up so largely and supported us," Linay Sheltra said.

Richard's sister explained the importance of building on Richard's legacy.

"We knew that we had to bring something good to our situation," she said, so the family created the Richard Sheltra Memorial Foundation.

Watch Part 2 of Paul Boyd's report here:

"We're striving to provide gear and educational opportunities," Mike Sheltra said.

The family is focused on helping firefighters at smaller departments. They have already raised more than $100,000.

Sheltra's family said the foundation has made arrangements to donate five sets of firefighting gear and provide five educational scholarships in Richard's memory this year.

The Richard Sheltra Foundation is also making a significant donation to the Pine Terrace Volunteer Fire Department in Lumberton, N.C. that was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

They believe that donation will be eligible for several matching grants to maximize their contribution.

Saturday's memorial run is their flagship fundraising event.

"Our focus is celebrate (Richard) as well as celebrating the local heroes that are still here," Tyler Sheltra said.

The family gives credit to the many volunteers that have turned out this year to support them, the foundation and the event.

"I hope that people carry Richard with them. He was very active and so this is a great representation of the lifestyle that he lived," Tyler Sheltra said.

The Sheltra family has developed a special bond with Pineville Fire Chief Mike Gerin.

"I lie awake at night sometimes, wondering where I would be if it was not for Mike and Linay Sheltra, and Tyler Sheltra, and how much they support me," Gerin said.

Mike Sheltra said the feeling is more than mutual.

"The beautiful thing about the brotherhood is you can't see it. You can feel it, but you can't see it. You can see the actions," Mike Sheltra said.

"These guys deserve to be honored every day and to be thanked every day," Tyler Sheltra said.

Richard Sheltra's dream was to be a full-time firefighter. He was mild-mannered with a strong sense of family. He was a young man of faith who was active in his church.

"You could see it in his eyes that this was something he was meant to do. And he was good at it. He just had a natural ability to work hard and do this job," said his friend and fellow Pineville firefighter, Walter Broadhurst.

"At the core of it all, he was just a very good person," Gerin said.

"He was a big guy. Cross fit dude. He played football. So you know, he had his mind set, he knew he needed to stay in shape to become a fireman because that's what he wanted to do," said Michael Filliben, Pineville assistant chief.

Though he was only 20 at the time of his death, he had already spent three years as a volunteer firefighter.

He had recently been named rookie of the year after logging the most training hours with the Pineville Fire Department.

Remembering the night of April 30 is not easy for the men and women who fought fire alongside Richard Sheltra.

"It's a night that nobody wants to remember, but you have to," Pineville Deputy Chief Jason Klemowicz said.

Lightning started the fire at a golf store in Pineville where he lost his life.

The official cause of death was smoke inhalation.

"It was, just, your heart just dropped. You know? And one of the things I had to do was come back to the fire house and tell the guys," Klemowicz said.

Of "my life in the fire service, (it was) absolute the worst day of my life," Gerin said.

The day of his funeral, Richard Sheltra's casket was carried on a fire engine. Thousands of firefighters and members of the community turned out to pay their respects and giant American flags flew in his honor

"As a department, that week was the longest week ... nobody will ever forget. But it made us tighter. It made us come together. It made us more family," Klemowicz said.

Inside the Pineville Fire Department, Richard Sheltra is honored everywhere you look. His helmet and firefighting jacket are on display and Engine 73 has been dedicated in his memory.

"I am extremely proud of where we were and where we are today. And how we as a group of Pineville firefighters, we've gotten better and we've moved forward. And how every day we find a way to remember him," Gerin said.

And everyone who knew Richard Sheltra said there's not a day that goes by they don't think of him or miss him.

"We know Richard's in a better place. We know where he's at. We know that he's safe and he's in God's arms and we're going to see him again one day," Linay Sheltra said.

The Richard Sheltra Memorial 10K will be held Saturday. It will honor and recognize Richard for his commitment and dedication to the community.

CLICK HERE to sign up and register for the run.