Texas town turns out to help a little boy say goodbye to his father

Cooper Stone followed his father’s casket as pallbearers carried
it out the church doors.
Cooper, 6, watched his father’s co-workers load it gently onto a
city of Brownwood fire engine.
By Alex Branch – McClatchy Newspapers

BROWNWOOD, Texas – Cooper Stone followed his father’s casket as pallbearers carried it out the church doors.

Cooper, 6, watched his father’s co-workers load it gently onto a city of Brownwood fire engine.

As the truck moved forward, he held his mother’s hand and walked close behind, beginning the long procession to Jordan Springs Cemetery, where he would say a final goodbye to his best friend and fellow baseball fan, Shannon Burke Stone, 39.

Throngs of Brownwood residents lined the streets Monday to honor the veteran firefighter, who died after a fall Thursday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Stone was trying to catch a baseball tossed to him by Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton for his son, who stood next to him as he fell.

The service was at First United Methodist Church.

“My son wanted to come down and at least say a prayer for him,” said Rhonda Moody, whose 6-year-old son, Aaron, goes to school with Cooper. “It’s hard to explain to children how a father can take his son to a baseball game and then this happens.

“We’re all still trying to understand.”

Fire engines from nearby cities and counties flowed into this city of around 19,000 about 150 miles southwest of Arlington. Flags were lowered everywhere, from the Bruner Toyota dealership to the Holiday Inn Express.

Hundreds turned out for the funeral, and the sanctuary was so crowded that the service was broadcast into a room with 500 seats.

Several pews were reserved for Cooper’s baseball and soccer teams. Some of the boys wore their team jerseys.

Rangers President Nolan Ryan, Senior Executive Vice President Jim Sundberg and other members of the organization attended.

Hamilton, who was in Phoenix on Monday for the All-Star Game, said he didn’t believe it appropriate for him to attend.

“Someone asked me last night if I was going to the funeral,” he said. “I don’t know Mr. Stone, I don’t know his family, so I don’t feel it’s my place to be in an intimate setting such as that.”

Stone died of blunt-force trauma less than an hour after falling over a 33-inch railing above left field and falling about 20 feet into the well behind the out-of-town scoreboard. Arlington officials said the railing was 7 inches higher than required, but a Rangers spokesman said Saturday that the team will re-evaluate fan safety at the 17-year-old ballpark.

After Stone’s service, bagpipes skirled and firefighters in dress uniform formed a line leading to the fire engine that carried Stone’s coffin.

Merry Lemons stood with her grandson, Braylon Harvey, 4, outside the church. Her son, Braylon’s father, is Brownwood firefighter Bryan Harvey. He was supposed to work a shift with Stone after Thursday’s Rangers game.

Bryan Harvey, who was inside at the service, and other firefighters are struggling with Stone’s death, she said.

“They aren’t doing so good,” she said, crying. “But the whole community is really stepping forward and letting his wife and son know they aren’t alone. Look at all the people here.”

Kara Pearson, a friend of the Harvey family, explained the procession to Braylon as “a sad parade.” He stood quietly as Stone’s family passed by.

The procession drew bikers in leather vests, volunteer firefighters who stood with their caps over their hearts, and young families. One man wore a Rangers jersey.

Jennifer Haby waved an American flag as she stood with four children. She said she brought them so they could learn to appreciate and respect people who help keep the city safe.

“I want them to know that we take care of the people who live around us,” she said. “And right now, this family is hurting and needs us.”

Cooper and his mother, Jenny, waved with appreciation at mourners as the two passed in a white pickup.

Several people watching the procession said it will take time for the heartbreaking images of Cooper, holding his glove and peering down at his injured father, to fade.

“That sweet little boy,” said one viewer, Minnie Coker. “My heart breaks.”

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