Categotry Archives: Heroes


Betty Jane Spencer


Categories: Heroes

Betty Jane Spencer, the lone survivor of the 1977 Hollandsburg murders, died on Oct. 26 of chronic lung disease. She was 71.

On Feb. 14, 1977, four men carrying shotguns entered her home in Hollandsburg, Ind., about 50 miles west of Indianapolis. The robbers pocketed a few items and $40 in cash, then ordered her and her four children to lie face-down on the living room floor.

That’s when the shooting started.

Spencer’s son Gregory Brooks, 22, and her stepsons Raymond Spencer, 17, Reeve Spencer, 16, and Ralph Spencer, 14, were executed. Betty was also shot in the back, but she survived the wound and pretended to play dead. Determined to leave no witnesses behind, one of the robbers kicked her and shot her a second time. That bullet grazed her shoulder and skull, and blew her wig off. Assuming she was dead, the gunmen left.

The telephone lines were cut so Spencer trudged through the snow and called the police from a friend’s house. Authorities eventually apprehended Roger Drollinger, 24, Daniel Stonebraker, 20, David W. Smith, 17, and Michael Wayne Wright, 21, and charged them with the slayings. Spencer’s testimony helped convict all four men of murder; they were later sentenced to life in prison. The notorious crime was chronicled in the 2004 book “Choking in Fear” by Mike McCarty.

The experience of surviving an armed robbery and losing her boys left an indelible mark on Spencer, one that inspired her to become a champion of victim’s rights. Over the next three decades, she helped change 56 Indiana laws and founded the Parke County Victims Advocate Foundation, an organization that provides crisis counseling to crime victims and keeps them notified of court dates. Spencer also joined the National Organization for Victim Assistance, the Protect the Innocent Foundation and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan honored her efforts at a White House ceremony.

Spencer’s resolve to keep her sons’ murderers in jail never wavered. Each time the men applied for clemency, she would appear at the hearing and testify against them. Last week, Spencer videotaped her plea to the parole board for use in future hearings.

“It is her dying wish that none of the four men ever get out of jail,” said her friend Kenneth Coleman. He plans to take up Spencer’s fight and argue against parole for the Hollandsburg killers for as long as he lives.


Christopher Reeve


Categories: Actors, Extraordinary People, Heroes, Hollywood, Writers/Editors

creeve.jpgChristopher Reeve, a veteran actor who was best known for playing Superman, died on Oct. 10 of heart failure. He was 52.

The native New Yorker was only nine years old when he first tread the boards at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., during a production of “Yeoman of the Guard.” After graduating from Cornell University, Reeve played the evil Ben Harper on the CBS soap opera “Love of Life.” He studied at The Juilliard School (his roommate was Robin Williams), and landed his first Broadway role in “A Matter of Gravity,” a play starring Katharine Hepburn.

Although he was relatively unknown at the time, Reeve’s handsome face and athletic, 6-foot-4-inch body made him the ideal choice for the title role in the 1978 movie “Superman.” He performed most of his own stunts and portrayed the Man of Steel in three sequels. Not wanting to be typecast as a superhero, Reeve next portrayed a time-traveling playwright in the 1980 romance “Somewhere in Time,” a bumbling actor in the 1992 farce “Noises Off…,” an American politician in the 1993 Merchant Ivory period piece “The Remains of the Day,” and a famous war reporter in the 1994 political comedy “Speechless.”

Reeve’s professional and personal life took an unexpected turn in 1995. While riding in an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Va., he was thrown from his horse. The accident fractured the top two vertebrae in his neck, damaged his spinal cord and left him a quadriplegic. Determined to walk again, Reeve endured years of operations and physical therapy. He eventually regained sensation in his index finger, his left leg and areas of his left arm.

Reeve then went to Washington, where he lobbied Congress for better insurance protection of catastrophic injuries. He campaigned for an increase in funding for stem cell research in the hope that scientists may one day develop treatments and cures for paralysis. With his wife Dana, he opened the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, a facility in Short Hills, N.J., that teaches paralyzed people how to live more independent lives.

Reeve also returned to show business. He made his directorial debut in 1997 with “In the Gloaming,” an HBO film that received five Emmy nominations and won four Cable Ace Awards. The following year, Reeve acted in a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Rear Window,” a performance that earned him a Screen Actors Guild award for best actor. He shared his life story in the books “Still Me” and “Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life”; the audio versions, which Reeve narrated, received Grammy nominations. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.

Reeve was receiving treatment for a severely infected pressure wound on Oct. 9 when he suffered a cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma. He is survived by his wife and three children, Matthew, 25, Alexandra, 21, and Will, 12.

Listen to a Tribute From NPR

Listen to an NPR Interview With Reeve

Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections On a New Life (Unabridged) Download “Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life”


Eva Schicke


Categories: Heroes

eschicke.jpgEva Schicke, the first female firefighter with the California Department of Forestry to die in the line of duty, was killed on Sept. 12 at the age of 23.
A member of an elite helicopter firefighting crew, Schicke and her colleagues were building a firebreak ahead of the wildfire raging through the Tuolumne River Canyon in the Stanislaus National Forest in Northern California when she was overcome by flames. Six other firefighters also suffered injuries in the blaze.
Schicke studied criminal justice and played Division II college basketball at California State University at Stanislaus. She spent the past four-and-a-half seasons working as a firefighter.
“Eva’s death is a tremendous loss for the California Department of Forestry not only because she was the first female firefighter to lose her life in the line of duty, but because she bravely risked her life to protect our homes and ensure our safety. In the face of danger, Eva acted with courage and commitment, giving her life for the protection of her fellow Californians,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. Flags at the Capitol in Sacramento were lowered to half-staff in her honor.
Brian Chambers, 34, is in custody on an arson charge; he’s accused of purposely starting the 800-acre forest fire with a match that was inserted inside a cigarette.


Donny Houser-Richerme


Categories: Heroes

dhouser.jpgDonald Houser-Richerme risked his life to save a playmate from drowning.

On June 7, Donny and his 4-year-old brother were exploring their Chicago Ridge apartment complex with Karah Moran, a 5-year-old neighbor. According to witnesses, the boys moved into the complex last month and Karah was showing them around.

The trio noticed the door to the pool area was unlocked and went inside. They were investigating the half-empty pool when Karah fell into the water.

Despite the fact that he couldn’t swim, Donny didn’t even hesitate a moment to take off his clothes. He just jumped into the murky, debris-filled rainwater to save her. But once he got Karah to the ladder, Donny started to drown. Karah immediately ran to a nearby adult, who called 9-1-1. Firefighters arrived a few minutes later, pulled the unconscious boy out of the water and transported him to the hospital.

After spending a week in critical condition, Donny died on June 14. He was six years old.


Pat Tillman


Categories: Heroes, Military, Sports

ptillman.jpgPat Tillman was entering his fourth NFL season when terrorists hijacked several planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001. Instead of signing a three-year, $3.6 million contract as a safety with the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman turned in one uniform for another.
He enlisted in the Army. His brother, is brother Kevin Tillman did so as well.
As Pat trained to become an Army Ranger, he made no statements to the press. Privately, he told colleagues he felt the need to “pay something back” for the life he had been afforded. His brother Kevin, a former minor league baseball prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, also signed up.
Assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite light infantry force, Tillman was reportedly stationed with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Iraq in March 2003. He was later transferred to Afghanistan, where his battalion participated in “Operation Mountain Storm,” the U.S. campaign to hunt down Osama bin Laden and members of his Al Qaeda terrorist group along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Tillman was killed in action on April 22 at the age of 27. Apparently shot in a friendly fire incident, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for combat valor.
In 1994, he arrived at Arizona State University on the school’s last remaining football scholarship. Four seasons later, Tillman was named Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He also earned a 3.84 grade point average and graduated with a degree in marketing in 3.5 years.
Tillman was the Cardinals’ 226th draft pick in 1998. He became Arizona’s starting strong safety, and set the team record with 224 tackles in 2000. The 5-foot-11, 202-pound athlete declined a five-year, $9 million contract offer from the St. Louis Rams in 2001 because he felt the Cardinals deserved his loyalty for taking a chance on him when he was still a rookie.
Last July, Pat and Kevin Tillman were honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the annual ESPY Awards telecast. The award, which is presented to individuals whose contributions transcend sports, was accepted by their younger brother Richard Tillman.
Complete Coverage From the Arizona Republic
[Update – Dec. 4, 2004: After reviewing witness statements, e-mails, investigation findings, logbooks, maps and photographs of the incident, The Washington Post concluded that Tillman died unnecessarily “after botched communications, a mistaken decision to split his platoon over the objections of its leader, and negligent shooting by pumped-up young Rangers … who failed to identify their targets as they blasted their way out of a frightening ambush.”
[Update – March 5, 2006: The Defense Department inspector general has ordered the Army to open a criminal inquiry into the shooting death of Cpl. Pat Tillman. The new inquiry, which follows three other military investigations, will be conducted by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. Previous investigations into Tillman’s death found a series of crucial errors made by his fellow Rangers in the heat of combat, but no criminal wrongdoing.]
[Update – March 27, 2007: A Pentagon investigation has concluded that Army officers violated regulations and misled members of Cpl. Pat Tillman’s family by failing to disclose promptly in 2004 that he had been accidentally killed by other American soldiers. Investigators also recommended that the nine officers, four of them generals, be subjected to disciplinary action. In response, the Tillman family released this statement: “The characterization of criminal negligence, professional misconduct, battlefield incompetence, concealment and destruction of evidence, deliberate deception, and conspiracy to deceive are not ‘missteps.’ These actions are malfeasance. In our opinion, this attempt to impose closure by slapping the wrists of a few officers and enlisted men is yet another bureaucratic entrenchment.”]

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