On the evening of Nov. 29, 2012, Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker called his mom while he was making his rounds. They chatted for a while, and as he hung up, he assured her he would stop in to see her in the morning like he did every morning when he finished his shift.
But that visit never happened. Less than two hours later, Decker was killed while responding to a call.
Rosella Decker remembers that night like it was yesterday. And she doesn’t mind talking about the last conversation she had with her son. She says it helps keep him alive in her heart.
“I need to talk about him,” she said. “He was a wonderful son.”
Tom was shot in the head while responding to a call for a welfare check at Winners Sports Bar and Grill in Cold Spring. A local man was the suspected shooter but committed suicide before he could be arrested. There were no other suspects and the case was closed in April 2018.
Rosella, a member of St. Nicholas Parish in St. Nicholas, has relied on her strong faith to help her deal with her son’s death and in the years since. Praying the rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet is a daily habit. Images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Divine Mercy and Immaculate Heart of Mary surround her in her home.
“I’m so blessed, so lucky, I have so much to be thankful for,” she says. “I never had the anger some of my family did. I could forgive, and I was concerned for the mother of the man they suspected was the shooter. I just thought he must have been so troubled to do something like that.”
She says she also thinks about the possibility that the shooter might still be out there.
“I pray for them,” she said. “I’m not going to judge anybody. I’m just going to be open-minded and forgive, and that’s where I can find my happiness.”
Rosella and her husband, John, who died in 2018, were the parents of eight children. But when they lost their son Tom, they already knew what it was like to lose a child. Tom’s sister, Susie, died from a heart defect when she was 8 years old. Tom was 2 at the time.
The family kept Susie’s memory alive by telling stories about her, and Rosella has been doing the same for Tom.
On Nov. 27, the family and wider community will gather at St. Boniface Church in Cold Spring for a commemoration ceremony. Police colleagues — including former Police Chief Phil Jones, who served with Tom — legislators and religious leaders, including Bishop Donald Kettler, will speak at the event. A tolling of the church bells — one for each of the 10 years of Decker’s service — is planned.
Plans also are in the works for a bronze memorial sculpture honoring law enforcement — not just Tom, but all police officers, Rosella said.
“I want all of them to be recognized and to say thank you for your service,” she said.
The memorial will feature a police officer holding the hand of a small boy with an ice cream cone. The image comes from a story Rosella tells about Tom when he was a child. He got lost at Crossroads mall and was comforted by an officer who bought him an ice cream cone and waited with him until his older sister found him.
“I think that was one of the reasons why he became a cop,” Rosella said.
She wants to honor all police officers who have been killed in the line of duty because she knows what it’s like to lose a child, she said. She has become close friends with the mothers of two other officers killed in Minnesota, Brian Klinefelter and Patrick Scott, who also will be honored at the Nov. 27 event.
“She has always said, ‘I don’t know how other people survive this without their faith,’” said Chuck Waletzko, a family friend who has been instrumental in securing funds for the memorial.
Chuck, who lives in Bloomington and his son Paul, who lives in Cold Spring, were inspired to have a monument built after hearing the story of Tom’s death and then meeting Rosella.
“I don’t think we would have done it if we weren’t so moved by Rosella and her faith and positive attitude,” Chuck said. “She’s the real deal.”
IF YOU GO
What: Commemoration ceremony to honor Tom Decker on the 10th anniversary of his death
When: 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27
Where: St. Boniface Catholic Church, 501 Main St., Cold Spring
A reception with food and refreshments will follow
TO DONATE TO THE MEMORIAL
Go to www.GoFundMe.com and search for “Cold Spring Police Memorial” in the search bar.
Checks can also be made out to “Tom Decker Memorial Fund” and sent to Granite Bank at P.O. Box 416, Cold Spring, MN 56320. For more information, visit www.ColdSpringPoliceMemorial.com.