SIGOURNEY — Not much went on in Keokuk County on Friday night. A few cars spotted parking lots at Keokuk Bowl on the edge of town and at the Casey’s in nearby What Cheer, but most streets in the area were quiet.
When a local cop is gunned down, small town Iowa halts.
Thousands from across the state packed into Sigourney High School for Eric Stein’s visitation. Stein, a 39-year-old Keokuk County sergeant, was killed this week in a stand-off in Sigourney on Monday.
“You don’t expect this to happen anywhere, but to happen in a small southeast Iowa county is even worse yet,” Jefferson County Chief Deputy Gregg Morton said. “It’s not something we’re prepared for — not something we’re ready for.”
Hundreds of American flags dotted the highway from What Cheer, where Stein lived, all the way to Sigourney and down to the high school where this weekend’s services are being held.
Hundreds of emergency personnel from dozens of public safety agencies in Iowa flocked to Sigourney for the visitation and funeral this weekend. Law enforcement officers have kept constant watch over Stein’s body and the Iowa State Sheriff’s and Deputies Association is coordinating a color guard for Saturday’s funeral.
Stein served on the Keokuk County force for about a decade. One would struggle to find a cop within 50 miles that didn’t have an anecdote to tell about Stein.
“He was a professional. He got along with everybody,” Morton said.
The line to the gym where Stein’s casket sat for the visitation wound through the school and all the way out the door to the chilly, overcast evening. The line moved slowly — it took people about an hour to get to Stein’s casket.
Attendees were chatty as they entered the school foyer — talking about the weather or the latest update from high school sports teams in the area — but almost everyone was decidedly more solemn as they exited the school, many with tears on their cheeks and tissues in their hands.
“It’s hard to believe something like this could happen this close to home, let alone to someone that you’ve kown most his life,” Shelly Krumm, a family friend who’d known Stein since he was young, said earlier this week.
But locals say even those who’d never had contact with Stein have been heart-broken over the shooting.
“The phone calls have been coming in left and right,” Sigourney Fire Chief Bill Halloran said. “I’ve been on my phone nonstop with emails, text messages, phone calls — people saying, ‘What can we do to help out?’ ”
Things will likely pick back up in Keokuk County after Saturday’s funeral, but it’s hard to suppose the legacy of the first Iowa law enforcement officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty in 25 years will quell soon.
“Just like we do with any tragedy we have, you gather your thoughts and keep your friends and family close and remember the good times,” Halloran said. “That’s what we want.”