Trooper’s death hits home
“Hero. Husband. Father. Brother. Son. Friend. Teammate.”
That is how the Illinois State Police described Trooper Nick Hopkins of Waterloo, who died Friday after being shot while serving a high-risk search warrant in East St. Louis.
Hopkins, 33, was working with the ISP Special Weapons and Tactics team at approximately 5:26 a.m. to serve the warrant at a residence in the 1400 block of North 42nd Street.
Hopkins was struck during an exchange of gunfire at the residence and was transported to Saint Louis University Hospital with life-threatening injuries.
He died from his injuries in St. Louis at approximately 6:10 p.m.
Hopkins’ death marks the first time in the almost 20-year history of the full-time ISP SWAT team that an operator was fatally shot.
In a Friday night press conference, ISP Acting Director Brendan Kelly emotionally spoke about Hopkins.
“In this darkness, we have to grasp for the light,” he said. “Nick Hopkins was a bright light in this world, outwardly shining with the integrity and pride of serving in the Illinois State Police as an Illinois State Police Trooper.”
Kelly said Hopkins also donated his organs, which could help as many as 40 people.
“Even in death, his light is shining,” Kelly said.
Kelly especially thanked those troopers who performed CPR for an extended period of time on their fellow trooper “to sustain their brother’s life so that his family could see him one last time.”
In total, three people were taken into custody after the shooting. Armored police, SWAT and tactical units remained on scene throughout the day.
On Saturday, St. Clair County State’s Attorney James Gomric charged Christopher R. Grant with first-degree murder, alleging he shot Hopkins “with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm.”
Grant, 45, has a criminal record including drug possession, possessing a firearm as a felon and obstructing justice.
He was arraigned Monday. Grant does not have a lawyer. His bond is set at $5 million.
On Monday, Gomric’s office charged a second man in connection with Hopkins’ killing.
Al Stewart Jr., 19, was charged with armed violence, obstructing justice and possession with the intent to distribute cannabis. The state’s attorney’s office said Stewart attempted to hide a .40-caliber handgun after the shooting.
Hopkins was a 10-year veteran of the ISP, starting as a cadet on June 1, 2009.
A 2004 Waterloo High School graduate, Hopkins moved up through the ISP ranks, eventually becoming a member of the SWAT team in September 2017 and an ISP senior agent in March 2018.
He is survived by family members including his wife Whitney, 4-year-old twins Evelyn and Owen, infant daughter Emma, parents Jim and Verna and five siblings.
Jim is a longtime Waterloo alderman. One of Nick’s brothers, Zack, is a sergeant with the Columbia Police Department.
On Monday, the family released a statement about Nick’s death.
“Words cannot convey the pain of the loss and the emptiness in our hearts,” they said. “Words also fail to describe the lasting impact Nick had on the lives of everyone who knew him. Nick was a son, brother, nephew, uncle, cousin, friend, carpenter and trooper, but the job he loved most was being a husband and father.
“Nick will live on through the memories we cherish and in how we emulate his passion for life: ‘You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.’ It brings us comfort to know Nick’s legacy will live on by the actions of others.”
The family also thanked individuals ranging from Nick’s SWAT teammates, the law enforcement community, the medical staff at SLU Hospital and the community.
Nick was also a member of Life Community Church in Columbia. On Sunday, Pastor Jamey Bridges shared a recorded message from Whitney with the congregation in which she talked about her husband’s relationship with his children.
“Evelyn, his 4-year-old daughter, loved blowing kisses, hugging and talking to him,” she said, her voice breaking. “Owen loved just being with him. Emma took her first steps to him just a day or two ago. She will be 1 in a week. I cannot even put into words how big his heart was.”
Bridges also spoke fondly of Nick.
“Nick was an incredible man,” he said. “(He had a) giving heart, always willing to lend a hand, to serve. He had a presence about him (and an) amazing smile that lit up a room. We know Nick is celebrating in heaven, but we are feeling the loss as a church family.”
That smile was also brought up by Waterloo High School baseball coach Mark Vogel, who had Nick as a player or student for seven years beginning in junior high school.
Nick played three sports at WHS: football, baseball and basketball. He played football at McKendree University.
“Every once in a while you meet a student who has as much impact on your life as you do theirs, and Nick was just that person,” Vogel said. “From the sixth grade on, he had a smile that would light up the room and a personality that matched that. He just never seemed to have a bad day, and he didn’t allow you to have a bad day.”
Vogel said the impact of that personality could be seen in the outpouring of support for Nick and his family in the community.
It started with thousands of prayers, well wishes and pictures in honor of Nick online.
The support found its way into the real world Monday afternoon, when Nick’s body was brought from St. Louis back home to Waterloo. Dozens of police vehicles from law enforcement agencies across the bi-state area drove in the procession.
Additionally, over a thousand people lined the streets along the route through Columbia and Waterloo, waving American flags, saluting, placing their hand on their heart and crying.
One of the biggest crowds was outside Waterloo City Hall, where hundreds gathered.
“It’s an extremely tough day,” Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith, himself an ISP veteran, said before the procession arrived. “It’s a very sad day. I lost a brother-in-arms and a son of Waterloo.”
The support has continued after the procession, with fundraisers planned or already taking place. Individuals should be careful, however, because there have been some scam fundraisers.
The only two places to donate that have been approved by the family are the Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation and The BackStoppers. Individuals can donate to those online at isphf.org/donations or backstoppers.org/donate, respectively.
Those donating online to the ISPHF must write “Trooper Nick Hopkins Memorial Fund” in the comment section. Donations to that organization can also be mailed to P.O. Box 8168, Springfield, Ill. 62791.
The BackStoppers have already started providing assistance to the Hopkins family.
In their statement, the family said it appreciates all the support from even those it does not know.
“There are so many others we want to thank, including those names we never learned,” they said. “Know that your kindness and support has not gone unnoticed, your actions are imprinted on our hearts forever.”
The community will next have the chance to support the Hopkins at a candlelight vigil at Waterloo Junior High School’s football field at 8 p.m. on Thursday. People must bring their own candle and lighter.
They will also have a chance to honor Nick at his funeral, which will take place at WHS this weekend.
The visitation will be 3-9 p.m. on Saturday, with the funeral at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
To read Hopkins’ full obituary, click here.