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Slain Illinois police officer's mother says her son always wanted to be a first responder

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From the moment Tammy Pierce brought her infant son home, she knew he was going to be something special.

"He was not your normal, typical baby. He was such a good baby. He hardly ever cried. He slept through the night," Tammy Pierce shared about her only son, Brian Pierce Jr., the Brooklyn Police officer who was killed on Aug. 4 on the McKinley Bridge while putting down spike strips to stop a fleeing motorist.

By the time Brian was 3, it was clear to his family he had a love for police cars and fire trucks and there was nothing anybody could do about it.

"All he wanted to do was play with police cars and fire trucks," Pierce said.

Every year at Halloween, young Brian had a consistent go-to when it came time to pick a costume: "You guessed it, a policeman, detective or a fireman," his mother said, laughing out loud.

There was one time Brian was forced, by his mom, to dress as a skull. He did it for a brief moment, but went right back to his favorites. Red and blue were in his human fibers.

"It was his life. It's like what he was born to do," Tammy Pierce said.

She told him often, "I think you bleed blue, sweetheart."

A knock on the door

Pierce 's voice cracked and she sobbed as she remembered the "shining light" she and Brian Pierce Sr. brought into this world and the horrible night that light went dark.

It was Aug. 4 that Tammy Pierce got the knock at the door she always worried about and prayed would never come.

She and her husband were awakened in their Makanda home at 4:30 a.m. and, while startled, they assumed it was probably a neighbor. But it was a Jackson County police officer.

The shrieks from her husband let her know her son was dead. She then heard her husband screaming her name.

"Tammy come here. Tammy come here," she heard him yell.

Hopping out of bed, Tammy ran toward the door where she found her husband on his knees and a Jackson County officer with tears in his eyes.

Without hesitation, Tammy said she blurted out, "Who did it?"

"In my mind, I thought my son had been shot," she said. "I did not know what happened to him, but I could feel it. My daughter knew, too. All we had to do was look in that officer's face."

The officer told Tammy that Brian had been killed. He told her to follow up with the Brooklyn Police Department chief for further details.

"It took us about an hour to make that call," she said.

Pierce said she and several family members drove to the Brooklyn Police Department and were taken to a room where the chief, the mayor and several Brooklyn Police officers were to learn what had happened.

Dreams of serving

While recalling memories of her son's life, Pierce was reminded of a very detailed essay Brian wrote about police cruisers when he was 10.

"It earned him an 'A' because of the incredible detail he provided," Tammy Pierce said.

He wrote about how important it was to have thick carpeting inside the police car so the passengers that were in the back would be warm, she said.

"Sometimes police are so busy that they don't get to put the prisoners in the car right away so it was important to have heated seats and carpet in the cruiser to keep them warm," she said her son wrote.

There are no police officers on either side of the Pierce family so Tammy said, "It was really odd that this was his choice."

She credits a family friend who was a police officer when Pierce was growing up, with taking Brian under his wings and showing him the ins and outs of the job police officers do.

"His name was Rob Wangen. He was a huge influence on our son," she said.

When Brian was 7, Officer Wangen took him him to his father's farm to ride in a police car and on an ATV, Pierce said.

"He was a huge influence on our son. He treated our boy like a little brother," she said.

Brian started volunteering at the Raymond-Harvel Fire Department, in Raymond, Illinois, when he was 12.

As a young teenager, he volunteered with the Elkville Fire Department, where his family had moved, his mother said.

"He got to do all kinds of things. He loved it," she said.

In 2015, when he was 18, Brian became a volunteer firefighter for the Makanda Township Fire Department, not far from Carbondale.

Brian was promoted to lieutenant and became a fire investigator and a trainer, Pierce said.

But that was not enough for Brian, who wanted to fulfill the two passions he had in life.

His family didn't know it, but Brian went on to become a volunteer police officer for the Brooklyn Police Department. It was a 90 minute drive one way to get to Brooklyn.

Fatally struck on McKinley Bridge

Brian had worked in Brooklyn department for six months as a full-time, paid police officer before he was killed on the McKinley Bridge while putting down spike strips to stop a fleeing suspect.

He lost his life when the driver fleeing Brooklyn police failed to stop and slammed into him about 3 a.m. on Aug. 4.

The red Dodge Charger that struck and killed Brian Pierce was abandoned and later found in St. Louis. But, the suspect, a Florissant, Missouri, man, was on the run for 16 days before he was captured. Every second Tammy Pierce waited for news of an arrest was painful, she said.

Caleb Campbell, 22, of Florissant, Missouri was charged with first-degree murder in addition to counts of reckless homicide, aggravated fleeing and attempt to elude a police officer, failure to report an accident involving personal injury or death, and failure to stop after an accident involving a death, according to the Madison County State's Attorney's Office.

Police have not said why the suspect was being pursued by Brooklyn police in the first place. Brooklyn Police Capt. Antonio White would not comment on anything pertaining to the incident because of an ongoing police investigation.

Prosecutors are alleging Campbell was the driver of the Dodge Charger that struck and killed Brian Pierce while he was speeding and fleeing from police.

Campbell is being held in the Madison County Jail with bail set at $2 million.

Fire department tribute

Makanda Fire Chief Jimmy Bilderback and Brian Pierce's co-workers are honoring Brian for being a dedicated worker and for his willingness to help everyone he could.

The Makanda Township Fire Department is naming its training room 517 Missions. Brian's number was 517, Tammy Pierce said.

This honor means a lot to the Pierce family because, they say, Brian worked hard to do the very best he could for anyone who needed his service. To have him honored for something he poured his life into is "something special," Tammy Pierce said.

She said the family did not know Brian was working at the Brooklyn Police Department for four months. He also worked a full-time job as head sergeant of security at Consume Cannabis Co. in Carbondale, she said.

"He was a very busy man," Pierce said.

"He got off from Consume Cannabis around 9 p.m. and then he drove to Brooklyn and got there about 10:30 p.m., and worked until morning," Pierce said.

Afterward, he ran home, showered, slept a few hours and was back at it again.

He worked six days a week because Mondays was fire training night.

"He would never miss a fire training," she said.

Arrest of suspect

Tammy Pierce said she wants justice for her son.

For 16 days, before police arrested him, Campbell was free, while Pierce was planning her son's funeral. For a mother, that's hard to swallow.

"I feel like our son died for no reason," Pierce said. "I have a lot of anger. I am happy he was charged with murder and now indicted. I will never get my son back."

How to help

You can send cards to the Pierce family at P.O. Box 73, Makanda, IL 62958. Also, the family has set up a GoFundMe page called "Remembering Brian Pierce, A Fallen Hero."

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