Trista Rowe doesn’t live in Amherst — but when she heard police officer Eugene “J.R.” Ptacek had been shot during a Sheffield Lake standoff, she was upset.
The seven-year-old grabbed her piggy bank and started making plans to help Ptacek and his family.
With the aid of her brother Timmy and friends Natalie Brown and Autumn Metro, she put together a lemonade stand and bake sale Friday and Saturday in the parking lot of the Sheffield Village police station.
They aimed to raise $1,500 for the wounded officer.
But word of the kids’ intentions spread and before the stand could even open, they were swimming in $2,000 worth of donations.
Seemingly half the population of Lorain County wanted to support the cause by buying chips, lollipops, cupcakes, cookies, pretzel rods, and cool drinks.
Those who stopped by the stand were greeted by Sheffield mayor John Hunter. “You need some lemonade!” he said, clapping folks on the back and ushering them toward Trista and company.
While we talked about an hour into the two-day event, the kids hit $3,000.
Among those eager to give was Andrew Benco, who said it’s important that children learn to help those who are in crisis.
“Everybody has rough times sometimes and everybody needs to pitch in and help each other,” he said.
Law enforcement officers and firefighters from all over the county visited the lemonade stand — even a Republic Services driver stopped his big blue garbage truck and leaped from the cab to grab a cup.
Dep. Ian Standen of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office said he wouldn’t miss a chance to enjoy lemonade and a doughnut to help out Ptacek. “He’s one of our SWAT guys… you have to show him respect and support,” he said.
Amherst patrolmen, detectives, and dispatchers visited to say thank you, too.
Lt. Mark Cawthon got down on one knee to talk to Trista eye-to-eye, thanking her on behalf of Ptacek. “I know that when he gets out of the hospital, he’ll be so appreciative,” he told her.
Amherst mayor Mark Costilow gathered Trista, Timmy, Natalie, and Autumn and presented them with plastic badges. With their hands raised, he swore the four in as junior officers of the Amherst police department.
They promised not to put anyone in handcuffs, though. “I know we can’t arrest anyone!” Trista giggled.
“What’s impressive is that this is in another community. These aren’t kids from Amherst but they still care about our officers,” Costilow said.
A member of the county SWAT team, Ptacek was shot multiple times in the torso May 31 while rushing a home where suspect Martin Robinson — wanted on felony warrants from a Cuyahoga County grand jury indictment — had barricaded himself.
He was flown to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland in critical condition. His status was soon upgraded to serious.
Cawthon said Ptacek is not up and walking but he is awake and joking. “He has a sense of humor, I can tell you that. He’s already offering to work afternoon shifts,” he said.
The wounded officer, a 17-year veteran of the Amherst police force, needs his rest. He is expected to recover but it’s going to be a long, arduous path, Cawthon said.
“Our main goal is supporting him, of course, and his family, and him knowing that we’re there for the support,” he said.
An event to honor Ptacek is being planned by police but details have not solidified yet.
The shooting shook Amherst officers and the following week was a difficult one, Cawthon said.
They are extremely appreciative of those residents who have called the station to offer kind words, provided food for police, and asked about Ptacek.
Police have also been moved by those who installed blue porch lights to shine at night in a silent but visible demonstration of solidarity for the wounded patrolman.
Amherst Schools PTO members have also created a box in the police station lobby where get-well cards can be delivered.
“We recognize the support of the community and we really appreciate that,” Cawthon said. “There is a lot of good in the world. There are a lot of good people in our world who offer up support in challenging times.”
Those who wish to make monetary contributions to Ptacek and his family are urged to do so via the Lorain County Blue Foundation. For more information, visit www.loraincountyblue.org.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.