Outside of the Audubon Center at the Riverlands, Elizabeth Snyder carried a 2-year-old bald eagle in her arms, and awaited the countdown from 10 led by Rachael Heaton, the director of operations for the TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow.
After the countdown, Snyder lifted eagle into the air, and he flew toward the Mississippi River. The juvenile unnamed male bird, spread his brown wings revealing his 6-foot wing span.
The TreeHouse Wildlife Center decided to release the eagle in honor of Blake Snyder, a St. Louis County police officer killed in the line of duty.
Elizabeth Snyder, Blake’s widow, called the gesture from the wildlife center, where she was intern in 2015, “absolutely amazing.”
“The symbolism of it is incredible,” Elizabeth Snyder said. “It really symbolizes what Blake was and what he did for his community. Eagles really represent bravery, loyalty, honesty — everything this nation stands for. I believe Blake symbolized all that as well.”
Snyder, 33, was shot after responding to a call just after 5 a.m. last Thursday. Police say Snyder was was shot in the chin once and later died at a St. Louis hospital. He had served with the St. Louis County Police Department for four years.
When the wildlife center heard what happened to Blake Snyder, staff members wanted to pay tribute to him, Heaton said.
“We knew her real well and are familiar with the family. When we heard about what happened it was just tragic,” Heaton said. “We tried to think of something we could do, and we thought this was the best we could offer her (and) it’s the symbol of our nation.”
The eagle was found in the Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, and is believed to be two years old, Heaton said. He was found on the ground with feather damage; they believe he wasn’t well enough to fly so he could hunt.
The wildlife center held onto the eagle for a few months so he could get his strength back so he could fly, which wasn’t until recently.
“It’s been a few weeks,” Heaton said. “He’s a strong flyer.”
Nancy Schwalb, of Edwardsville, was among the several hundred people who came to the eagle release at the Audubon Center.
Schwalb’s son, Nick, works in law enforcement for the Washington State Park Service.
“(We’re) just supporting law enforcement, with my son being law enforcement,” Schwalb said. “We’ve got to start supporting law enforcement; there’s been too much tragedy both ways. They give their life to protect and serve.”