Step and punch. Block the counter-blow and strike. Again and again, head bobbing, gloves up…
This is something that Officer Brad Thomas, the 22-year-old stepson of slain police Capt. Robert David Melton, can do.
He can box in memory of his lifelong mentor, the Kansas City, Kan., policeman he calls “Dave,” who died in gunfire 15 months ago.
He can do this work — training in a rugged gym for the Guns N’ Hoses charity boxing event this Saturday night in support of the families of fallen police officers and firefighters.
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It banishes, at least for a moment, the things that can’t be undone.
“I think this will help him,” said Katie Melton, Thomas’s mother and Dave Melton’s ex-wife, married for 13 years. “He’s really struggled.”
It helps — the jump-roping, the pounding at the heavy punching bags, the sparring and the fierce smack, smack, smack of his fists into his trainer’s mitts.
“I’m trying to keep my mind away from what could happen,” Brad says of a family still fully invested in law enforcement careers.
It helps keep “my mind from what did happen.”
On that afternoon — July 19, 2016 — when Dave Melton responded for the last time to a dispatched call for help, Brad’s twin brother, Brian, was actually in the Kansas City, Kan., police headquarters applying to be a law officer like his stepdad.
Brad, now a Merriam police officer, was a step ahead of Brian. He’d already completed a law enforcement application just months earlier, waiting on his 21st birthday to follow in Dave’s footsteps. He was at work that afternoon at a car shop.
Dave Melton did not want his stepsons going into police work, Katie said. And Dave — a former National Guardsman in the Army who did two harrowing tours in Afghanistan and in Iraq — didn’t want them doing that either. It had been very hard on him, she said.
But Brad had enlisted in the National Guard after he turned 18.
The stepfather bared his concerns only privately to Katie, she said. To Brad and Brian he always supported their choices proudly. He accompanied Brad when he visited the military recruiter, Brad said.
“He said he wanted to make sure he didn’t tell me any bull----.”
And when Brad let him know he was applying for a career in law enforcement, the closest Dave ever came to warning him off was his reply that day.
“He said, ‘Don’t grow up too fast.’ ”
Then came that afternoon when — the first sign of trouble — an alert on Facebook said that a KCK officer had been shot. His stepdad, being a captain with desk work, wasn’t likely involved, he thought.
But Dave Melton wasn’t such a captain.
Shots had been fired about 1:30 p.m. from a car near the Juniper Gardens public housing complex at Second Street and Edgerton Drive. Within a half-hour officers stopped the car at 15th Street and Rowland Avenue. The driver surrendered but an unclear number of occupants scattered on foot.
Melton was patrolling nearby and saw a suspect on the run near 22nd Street and Georgia Avenue. He cut him off with his car, but the man raised a gun and fired through the passenger side window, which was rolled halfway down.
Melton was rushed to University of Kansas Hospital. Brad got the word from Katie that Dave was shot. He rushed to the hospital, but Dave never was conscious again and he died.
Jamaal R. Lewis, 21, is charged with capital murder and his trial is pending.
“It’s about staying together”
Keep the head moving, gloves up. Quick strike, snap it back to block. Counter the opponent’s miss.
Brad, a state-qualifying wrestler when he was at Shawnee Mission East High School, has never boxed before. He admits he’s nervous. But the Guns N’ Hoses organizers and Title Boxing are providing the boxers first-class training and gear.
He’s working with 73-year-old Albert Guardado, whose son, Albert Guardado, Jr., made it as an Olympian flyweight boxer in the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
It was Katie’s idea a year ago that Brad and Brian should sign up and train to fight in Guns N’ Hoses.
You should do this, she had urged them last October. Brad didn’t know if she was serious.
It would support a charity that aids the families of fallen police officers and firefighters on both sides of the state line.
But more personally it would be good for their whole family, she believed — good for all five of her children, the three of hers she raised with Dave, and the two they had together.
And it would be good for her, too.
“The hardest part has been watching my children grieve and not being able to help them,” she said. “It’s very helpless. I can’t make it better.”
Brian, a deputy sheriff in Johnson County, is too busy in law enforcement training to box, Brad said, so Brad is the one taking up Katie’s challenge.
Brad finds it ironic that his mother — a nurse who “knows all the injuries that can happen” — pushed him into the boxing ring.
The idea came as the family watched from a table offered them to attend the 2016 Guns N’ Hoses event. Brad’s wife, Lauren Thomas, was with them, at that time his fiancee. The family was barely three months into their new lives without Dave.
At Guns N’ Hoses, men and women from numerous law enforcement, fire protection and safety agencies throughout the area were paired up in boxing matches. Three rounds, each round three minutes long, with fighters wearing protective head gear.
Many of the fighters a year ago had Dave Melton’s badge No. 1799 written in Sharpie pen on their shoulders. They also penned on the badge number of Kansas City, Kan., Police Detective Brad Lancaster who’d been killed in May, 2016.
The annual fundraiser supports S.A.F.E — the Kansas City Crime Commission’s Surviving Spouse and Family Endowment Fund. And Melton’s family had already received S.A.F.E.’s support.
Of course Brad was eager to help the organization, Katie Melton said. He had hardly stopped to care for himself after the tragedy because he was focused on his younger siblings — then 15 and 10 — making sure they were all right.
The older siblings stayed with the younger ones, Katie said, sleeping in their rooms at night, always saying, “I love you.”
Everyone was “in shock,” Brad said. “We’re pretty close because of everything that’s happened. For our family it’s about staying together.”
Dave will be there
Brad’s imagining what it will be like when he steps into that ring in the Kansas City Convention Center Grand Ballroom Saturday night.
In many ways it will be a hyped-up version of what he already does every day when he reports for duty as an officer in Merriam.
He keeps his stepfather’s old handcuffs in the bag he has while on duty, not to ever use them but just to have them there.
And Brad sat down in the past year to get a tattoo — a replica of Dave’s police badge with the black drape across the middle in honor of a fallen officer. It is etched over his left breast so that when he dresses for duty, his own badge covers Dave’s.
“Dave is going to be there,” Katie said. “I’m going to tell him that before he goes out there. David is there with you.”
They’ll be piping his chosen “walk-up song” as he enters the ring at the call of his name — “Soldiers” by the rock group Otherwise.
“We are the ones who will never be broken…”
The protection Katie will summon to shield her son will be just a reflection of the shield she prays for every time her sons in uniform go to their work.
“I still am scared,” she says.
But she knows this: “They have a bad-ass angel watching over them.”
Guns N’ Hoses
Saturday, 6:30 p.m., The Kansas City Convention Center Grand Ballroom, 301 W. 13th St. Ticket prices start at $25. For tickets go to www.kansascitygunsnhoses.com,