Before southwest Missouri even knew how badly Springfield Police Officer Aaron Pearson had been wounded, the fundraising began.
A golf course donated part of its greens fees for a day. A tattoo parlor, barber shop and car dealership set up fundraising campaigns. Fellow Springfield officers began to organize more events, and friends of Pearson’s wife set up an online account that, as of Friday evening, had more than $17,000.
All proceeds will go to the officer, who suffered a traumatic brain injury early Monday when he was shot in the head with a .38-caliber pistol while assisting on a call. The 30-year-old officer is still hospitalized in serious condition — with what has been characterized as a career-ending injury — and has a long road to recovery ahead.
“The outpouring of support is not unexpected, but the level and volume is unexpected,” said Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams. “I think this really struck a chord with this community.”
It also hit parts of the Kansas City area. Pearson graduated from Blue Springs High School in 2003. Friends say Pearson and his wife, who have two young children, often come to Kansas City, where his father, Deputy Winston Pearson, is a 30-year veteran of the Jackson County sheriff’s department.
Although many at Blue Springs High School didn’t know the former student had become a police officer, his name in recent news reports about the shooting stood out. Football coach Kelly Donohoe thought back to the young man, known as a giving teammate and respectful student who was a member of the school’s 2001 state championship team.
“Aaron was just a young man that we knew would go on and make a difference,” Donohoe said. “A good kid, a good heart. You just knew that he would find success. ... We all have a real heavy heart on this situation right now.”
Pearson started at the Springfield police academy three years ago this week. Already in his young career, he has received a commendation for his work on the street.
That’s one reason, said Officer Mike Evans, that the shooting has had such an impact on the department and community.
“You kind of look at Aaron and say, ‘That guy’s Superman,’” said Evans, president of the Springfield Police Officers Association. “He was always looking to be proactive, going after the groups we know were involved in high levels of criminal activity, patrolling hot spots in the city.
“Anywhere there is crime, Aaron is going to be shortly behind it.”
Early Monday, just before 1:30, was no different.
Another officer had noticed a driver of a van in a high-crime area acting suspiciously. At one point the driver parked outside a home, and the officer soon noticed a man and woman standing outside the van. As the man walked toward the home, the woman “looked up and down the street repeatedly” as if being a lookout for the man, according to a court affidavit.
The officer called for backup.
When Pearson arrived, he went to find the man as the other officer spoke to the woman. Another woman was inside the van.
“Officer Pearson had radioed (that) the male was not stopping for him,” the affidavit said. The other officer “then heard multiple gunshots from the area where Officer Pearson was attempting to contact the male.”
A third officer found Pearson lying in a grassy area near an auto parts store.
After a more than seven-hour manhunt, officers arrested Joshua Hagood, who has a lengthy criminal history. He was charged with assault of a law enforcement officer in the first degree, among other charges. He remains in jail.
Nearly 80 officers have been involved in the case in some way, from the initial call and manhunt to the investigation. Officials are making sure those officers receive any counseling or assistance they need, Williams said.
Many struggled initially but now are focused, Evans said. So many donations have come in to the association that officers were able to deliver an initial $10,000 check Friday afternoon to the family.
“We’ve accepted what has happened and the gravity of the situation,” Evans said. “Now we’re going to focus all that anger, anxiety and sadness into something productive, and that’s to help his family.”
Same with the community.
Resident Mike Trent said there’s a desire to do something.
“It makes you feel for him,” said Trent, owner of Inkspiration Tattoo. “It tears at you.”
For his part, Trent is donating 10 percent of every tattoo until Feb. 11. He’d love to collect as much as $2,000, if not a little more.
And from now until Feb. 7, 10 percent of every haircut at Straight Edge Barber will go to Pearson and his family.
Three days before the shooting, Pearson sat in the chair at Straight Edge for a cut. Barber Melissa Sands, who knows Pearson and his family and used to babysit for them, said the two talked about crime.
“We talked about how it was getting worse, and how it’s scary what can happen,” Sands said. “He said he had a really good crew, and they all liked working together. He just sounded like he was excited to work with the squad he was with.”
Already, new people are coming in for a cut and to help with the fundraising.
“Most of them have family who are officers or firefighters,” Sands said Friday after finishing a cut. “They want to do anything they can because they know how it feels.”
On Wednesday, when temperatures around Springfield were springlike, Island Green Golf Club in Republic donated 20 percent of the day’s greens fees. Staffers at the club remember Pearson coming in several times last summer, “always smiling,” and playing a late afternoon of golf.
People who wouldn’t ordinarily have golfed Wednesday did for Pearson. Two young men in their 20s drove in from Bolivar, about 40 miles away, to pitch in, said Beverly Boatright, marketing director of the club.
“They said, ‘They (police officers) have our back all the time, so we can have their back now,’” Boatright said. “That was great to see.”
To contact Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
A GiveForward.com fundraising account has been set up by several high school friends of Aaron Pearson’s wife. To donate, go to www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/3dj1/love-for-officer-pearson-and-family.
For more information about fundraising events, contact the Springfield Police Officers Association at email@example.com. The association soon will be selling T-shirts and bracelets at www.spoamo.org.