RACINE — “I love you daddy, love Brooke,” was handwritten in marker on a paper left on a police squad parked on the lawn of the Racine Police Department at Washington Avenue and Center Street.
The heartfelt message lay in a sea of flowers left in memory of Racine Police Officer John Hetland, 49, who was killed Monday night.
He lost his life while trying to stop an armed robbery in progress at Teezers Bar & Grill, 1936 Lathrop Ave., while he was off-duty. Hetland was the father of a 15-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.
Throughout the day Wednesday, the community continued to show an outpouring of support, with the memorial on the squad in front of the police station continuing to grow and area law enforcement and friends gathering for camaraderie and support on Wednesday night.
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff across the state in memory of Hetland until the time of his burial.
Racine Police Chief Art Howell said Wednesday that funeral arrangements for Hetland were still pending. Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home in Mount Pleasant is assisting with arrangements.
Kamari Andrews, 14, who is a member of the Racine Police Department Explorer Post and assists the department, knelt down in front of the memorial on Wednesday before going to the station.
"My goal is to become a police officer,” said Andrews, who is entering his freshman year at Park High School. “For this to happen is very sad. John Hetland was a really good guy … I came out to pray for this man.”
Seeing the memorial, Sara Jerry, a lifelong Racine resident who went to Mitchell Middle School with Hetland, said the squad made her both proud and sad at the same time.
“It makes me proud they took the time to remember him in that way. But it also makes me sad because the community, his friends, his family, his relatives, lost someone who was a wonderful person,” Jerry said.
Jerry was one of dozens of people who gathered Wednesday night at Richard’s Bar & BBQ, 3458 Rapids Drive, to remember Hetland.
Rick Smetana, who owns the bar and has several family members in law enforcement, knew Hetland personally.
“Friend to many, hero to all,” Smetana said. “He is a hero. He was before this. He touched so many lives as a cop, people don’t understand. He treated everyone with respect and demanded respect back. That worked so well with the job he had. He was unbelievable and he could talk a situation down like no one else. He was a great friend.”
April Cruz, a dispatcher with the Racine County Communications Center, echoed the sentiment. “You will not find another like him,” she said. “I knew him from the start. We worked together on second shift and day shift … He was always a good guy. He always had dispatchers' backs.”
Racine County District Attorney Tricia Hanson joined friends in law enforcement Wednesday and said she has known Hetland since high school. They graduated the same year, Hanson from Case and Hetland from Park and they were both hired in 1995, Hanson at the District Attorney’s Office and Hetland at the Racine Police Department.
“I remember going to preliminary hearings one day and being like ‘John?’ Here he was in uniform. Here I was in my suit fresh out of law school,” Hanson recalls. “He was truly one of the best. I mean he was so well loved and so well respected. He was such a mentor to young cops. For the last 24 years he has been training our new officers.
“John was an amazing cop," Hanson continued. "He always worked nights because that was when the action was. He gave all that up because he had to be home for his kids and that came first. That is the kind of guy he was.”
In Evers' proclamation the governor said, “The people of Wisconsin mourn with the Racine community that Officer Hetland served faithfully for over 24 years. Officer Hetland was a loving father and son, a valued member of his community and leaves behind an honorable legacy of service. His heroism and bravery will never be forgotten."
The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department is heading the investigation into the fatal shooting.
"We are still following up on tips and investigating. We currently have no new information to release," Lt. Eric Klinkhammer, public information officer for the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department, said Wednesday.