WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. — Each year, we lose officers in the line of duty and often, we don’t see the pain it causes their families.
For Candice Ward, not only did she lose her husband, Chris, but she feared she could lose her home too.
Channel 9′s Gina Esposito found out there’s an organization going to extraordinary lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Chris Ward was a sergeant with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office when he was killed last April during a welfare check. The past nine months haven’t been easy for his wife, Candice Ward. She holds on to every memory of her husband.
“We made him a memorial wall. We could have chosen a bigger wall but we didn’t because of this deer head. It had to stay here, that was his trophy. He loved to deer hunt,” Candice said. “I just want to make sure that the kids know how important he was as a father and as a police officer, and a husband. We’re not going to forget.”
Candice said her daughters, 20-year-old Molly and 6-year-old Katie, are honoring their father in their own ways. Both girls created special, private memorials in their bedrooms. The girls included pictures of their father, teddy bears made with their dad’s uniform, a necklace with this thumb print, and more.
Candice said she never thought she’d be memorializing her husband of 19 years because to her, Chris was invincible. She said they met in high school and got married two weeks after graduation.
“I never lived an adult life without him so I don’t know what it’s like to be on my own, to be making decisions by myself, raising kids by myself,” she said.
Candice said Chris’ death brought fears about what else her family could lose. She said she had these thoughts the same day he died.
“How am I going to pay for the house? And I hated thinking that because I just lost him, but I couldn’t help it. Now what am I going to do?”
Then, she got a call from the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The organization, which helps families who’ve lost a police officer, firefighter or military members, was calling to say it would pay off her mortgage.
“To know that we could keep something that [Chris] built for us, I’m sure that he’d be very happy and proud and not looking it as charity. Look at it as us being taken care of,” Candice said.
Frank Siller is the Chairman and CEO of Tunnel to Towers. He and his siblings started the foundation after their brother Stephen, who was a firefighter, was killed on 9/11. Since then, they’ve been helping other families across the country. He said in 2014, they started paying off the mortgages for families with young children who lost someone in the line of duty.
“They have enough that’s going on and we see it’s a tremendous relief for their families and we’re so honored to be doing it,” Siller said.
Siller said they’ve paid the mortgages for or built new homes for 35 families in North Carolina. Most recently, they paid off the mortgage for Charlotte Firefighter Brent Goodwin, who lost his wife Mia, a CMPD Officer, in December.
“My heart breaks. [Brent] was very relieved that we were going to take care of his mortgage and we did. It’s off his plate so he doesn’t have to worry about it. We’ll try and some other small things for him too. To help in his responsibility, that he has three young kids,” Siller said.
Candice said she knows the impact it can have. She and her daughters can now continue making memories in their home just as her husband, Chris, intended.
“Tunnel to Towers has changed my life. Literally. Like such flexibility now,” she said. “To just have that little bit of wiggle room, to be with the girls and do what I need to do without that pressure. It’s life changing. My life has changed obviously, but the Lord knows how to work things out.”
Tunnel to Towers Foundation helps families across the country. Siller said they are able to do it through donations. If you want to help, the organization is hosting a fundraising event in Charlotte on May 1 called the Tunnel to Towers Climb Charlotte.
(WATCH BELOW: Memorial grows outside Watauga County Sheriff’s Office for 2 fallen deputies)
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