SARTELL — What 8-year-old Kelly Decker remembers about her dad — more than playing Nintendo Wii together, more than the treehouse he was building for Kelly and his other three children — was how he loved to look out for people.
Kelly's dad is Cold Spring-Richmond Police Officer Tom Decker, 31, who was killed late Thursday in what police say was an ambush near Winner's Bar in Cold Spring.
Tom Decker left behind lots of grieving family members, including four children: Kelly, Jade Decker, 7, Justin Decker, 6, and Devon Decker, 5. Their mother and caretaker is Becky Decker of Sartell, Tom Decker's former wife, the St. Cloud Times reported (http://on.sctimes.com/VgixT8).
Becky Decker speaks well of Tom, calling him a good father and widely respected community member.
The fact that police say Tom died while checking on someone's welfare — the suspect in the shooting, Ryan Larson, who remains in Stearns County Jail on suspicion of second-degree murder — doesn't surprise his family.
"He just liked to protect people," Kelly said. "All I can say is I want him back."
All of them are coping with Tom's death and remembering him in their own ways.
Justin, who Becky says takes after his father and wanted to be a cop just like him, didn't show his grief during an interview Saturday.
Jade is struggling to imagine Christmas without her father. Mounds of presents surround the family's Christmas tree, but Jade told Becky the only present she wants is to have her daddy back.
Becky's nightmare started not long after midnight Friday, when she answered the door and found Cold Spring-Richmond Police Chief Phil Jones on her doorstep, eyes trained on her doormat.
Jones' appearance and demeanor told the story before he even spoke, she said.
Tom often warned of his profession's perils. But in those predawn hours, "it was just the hardest thing to comprehend," Becky said.
Becky affirmed his colleagues' remembrances that Tom loved working as a cop in his hometown of Cold Spring. She also seconded memories about Tom's omnipresent sense of humor, calling him a goofball who liked to watch "SpongeBob Squarepants."
Now Becky, who says she relied heavily on Tom's support — emotional and financial — to care for their children, is left to ponder how she'll manage the future.
Becky says her friends and family have overwhelmed her with love and support in the last two days. They've brought food, helped watch the kids and offered hugs and shoulders to cry on.
Becky hopes she can continue to count on them in the months ahead.
"We need people's support," Becky said. "There's going to be ups and downs, but we're going to get through it."
Sometimes getting through it is tougher than others.
At one point Saturday, Kelly was overcome thinking about her dad. Tears trickled down her cheek and onto her T-shirt, which bore a smiley-face and slogan, "Be Happy."
It's been that kind of emotional roller coaster in the last two days for Kelly and her family. They're happy to remember the good times with Tom, sad to think of their loss, and uncertain when they wonder what's next.
Kelly gave Becky a big hug, hopped onto her lap and let the tears flow. The two comforted each other, remembering Tom Decker the officer, the dad, the husband — and most of all, the caretaker.
"He's going to watch over you," Becky told Kelly. "He's going to make sure you are taken care of."
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com