Father of slain trooper trying to avoid second-guessing self

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

In grief, Carl Graham struggles to avoid the numbing game of what-if.

Years ago when he urged his son to rethink chasing a career in policing and find something safer, Carl "Dewayne" Graham Jr. got a college degree in criminal justice, eventually working his way into the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

When Dewayne moved from Van Buren into the boondocks outside the tiny town so his son could romp, father Carl worried that the woodsy remoteness could expose the law enforcer to a vengeful sniper.

All of the worries came to roost Sunday evening, when two state troopers arrived long-faced at Carl's home.

"This is a visit you don't want to get," they told him. "But we've got to tell you that Dewayne's gone, he's been shot. There's just no good way to tell you."

Two days later as the dead lawman's colleagues continue searching for who ambushed Dewayne outside his home -- still wearing his dress blues -- Carl spent Tuesday working to avoid second-guessing himself or the late son who proudly wore the patrol's badge No. 223.

For the officer the patrol says died in the line of duty though his shift had ended, the eulogies for the 37-year-old man already flow freely in advance of his Thursday funeral.

"He was no superhero, just a common guy who worked hard and believed in what he was doing," his father said. "I couldn't be more proud of him."

Preliminary autopsy results reveal that the trooper was shot twice and "was dead when he hit the ground," Carter County Coroner Dennis McSpadden told the Daily American Republic in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

Investigators still haven't unraveled why someone killed the 4-year-old boy's doting father who hours before his death drove stakes into the place he and his fiance planned to build their home and life.

Police work always seemed to be in the blood of Dewayne, an only child of parents who divorced early in his life, with Carl getting custody and moving the boy from St. Louis to Dexter in 1974.

"He was never a problem," Carl said. "He could always figure out right from wrong."

In high school, Dewayne joined a ride-along program with Dexter police. He went to college at his father's insistence, promising he'd "get the paperwork and be somebody."

Just not what his father necessarily wanted him to be. At Southeast Missouri State University, Dewayne was an auxiliary Dexter policeman and worked campus security. To pay for his senior year -- his father paid for the first three -- he worked full-time for Perryville police.

"I tried to talk him out of police work. It was always in the back of my mind that he'd get hurt," Carl said. "But you can't tell your kids what they're going to do. He just loved it so much."

Dewayne graduated in 1990 with a degree in criminal justice, then joined the patrol three years later. He was promoted to corporal in 1999 and sergeant in 2002, then was transferred to Carter and Reynolds counties. He eventually settled in Van Buren, an 850-resident town along the Current River.

Among his top priorities: Snare drunken drivers.

"He could give a little leeway on a lot of things, but he just did not want anyone to get behind a steering wheel if they'd been drinking," his father said. "That was just needless to him."

Last year, Dewayne moved about four miles north of Van Buren to a small house at the bottom of a heavily wooded hollow, partly visible from the highway. Though Dewayne liked the rural setting for riding an all-terrain vehicle and taking his son fishing, his father fretted about the seclusion.

By staying in town, "it would have been easier for him to keep his guard up" against people perhaps bent on retaliating against him, Carl said. "I don't think it could have happened as easy if they hadn't had places to hide in ambush."

It's there that Dewayne died, leaving behind a son, a fiance working for the state conservation department, and a father lobbying for executions of anyone involved in the killing.

"I have a gnawing feeling that can't rest -- that someone did this to my boy," Carl said, finding solace in comforting words from his son's pastor. "He's convinced Dewayne is in good hands, and that helps."

A memorial fund has been established for Dewayne Graham's 4-year-old son, Hayden. Contributions may be sent to First Midwest Bank, P.O. Box 129, Van Buren, MO, 63965.

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