Flags were at half-staff in Waterloo on Saturday as the town grieved for Illinois State Trooper Nick Hopkins, who grew up there and was well-known by its residents.
Hopkins, 33, was shot and killed in East St. Louis Friday while executing a search warrant. The 10-year-veteran of the Illinois State Police succumbed to his injuries at 6 p.m. at St. Louis University Hospital.
“It is nearly impossible to express the depth of my sadness,” said ISP Acting Director Brendan Kelly. “In this darkness, we have to grasp for the light. Nick Hopkins was a bright light in this world.”
Details on the search warrant have not been released. An investigation is underway into the shooting, and three suspects have been taken into custody.
Hopkins is the first ISP trooper to be shot and killed in 30 years. He served a majority of his time on ISP’s Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (SWAT).
Beyond being a state trooper, Hopkins was a husband and the father of 4-year-old twins and a newly born daughter. He graduated from Waterloo High School, and his father has been an alderman in Waterloo for nearly 17 years. One of his brothers, Zack Hopkins, is a police sergeant in nearby Columbia.
Hopkins also has five siblings, two brothers and three sisters.
Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith told KMOV Hopkins, known for his infectious smile, loved his job as an ISP trooper, something his father shared with him many times.
“He always had a smile, he loved it. His dad said Nick was so happy when he made the tactical response team, and he just loved it, so he’s happy to be a trooper,” Smith said.
The weekend in Waterloo was planned to be a celebration of the high school’s homecoming, but Hopkins’ sudden death changed the town’s tone from celebratory to somber.
Life Community Church Pastor Jamey Bridges remembers when Hopkins and his wife first started attending the church a year and a half ago. He said the two “dived right in.” After that, Hopkins took it upon himself to start working on projects throughout the church and even created a volunteer security team for services.
“His problem, I always told him, was that he said yes too much. He was involved with everything,” Bridges said.
Bridges was with the Hopkins family at St. Louis University Hospital. He said even then Hopkins’ brother mentioned how excited the trooper, who was known as a talented carpenter, was to work on a project at the church.
The last time the two men talked, Bridges said he asked how much Hopkins would need to do the project, and the trooper responded by saying the work was all for free.
“He found joy in small things,” Bridges said, recalling a time Hopkins insisted on fixing the pastor’s fence after a bad storm. “He loved helping.”
On the welcome sign at the Waterloo Police Department, black and blue ribbons were on display, and along the path of Saturday’s homecoming parade, several buildings wore black and blue ribbons, showing support for the trooper, his family and colleagues.
One such business bearing a ribbon with Hopkins’ trooper number, #6141, was florist shop Bloomin’ Diehls, one of Hopkins’ tenants. The trooper owned many properties throughout town as a side business.
“He was a kind person, had a huge smile,” said shop owner Kim Thaggard. “He loved his family. Spoke a lot about them. He was very proud.”
Thaggard said Hopkins bought the location her shop is in and worked with the city to renovate it. She said he did all the woodworking in the building and redid the front of the shop himself.
“He was very talented. Extremely talented. Besides being a state trooper, he was very handy,” she said.
Kelly mentioned Hopkins’ carpentry during a press conference held Friday.
“Nick’s father said Nick had amazingly strong hands and was an incredible carpenter,” Kelly said.
Deeper downtown on Saturday, another ribbon was on the door of Bountiful Blossoms, an antique store owned by Shaundra Huebner. She didn’t personally know Hopkins, but said it’s important to show support after a tragedy.
“I just wanted to put it out there to show support for his family,” she said. “It’s important to show support in a small community at times like these. It’s terrible.”
Hopkins’ death marks the fourth death of an Illinois State Trooper in 2019. Troopers Christopher Lambert and Brooke Jones-Story were both struck by vehicles and Trooper Gerald Ellis died in an automobile crash as well.
Hopkins’ organs are to be donated to benefit up to 40 people, according to officials. Kelly said the trooper was “healthy as a horse” before his untimely death.
“Even in death, even in this moment — this dark moment — his light is shining,” he said.
He added his gratitude to the first-responders who kept Hopkins alive long enough with CPR that his family could see him one last time.
Hopkins’ story spread throughout the country Friday night and Saturday morning. In Florida, 10-year-old Zechariah Cartledge, who runs to honor the lives of first responders and the military, planned to run a mile with an American flag in honor of the fallen trooper.
It is the fourth time he has run for a fallen Illinois State Trooper.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday evening in a statement the state stands with Hopkins’ family.
“Today the entire state mourns the loss of ISP South Swat Trooper Nicholas Hopkins, a young man who dedicated 10 of his 33 years on this earth to protecting the people of Illinois,” he wrote. “It is the most courageous among us who choose a life of risk so their communities can go about their lives in peace.”
Life Community Church will meet Sunday at 10 a.m. in Metter Park for its annual outdoor service, Bridges said, where Hopkins will be remembered. He said it will be a good time for the parish to reflect on its loss and added that all are welcome to attend.
“The whole church will be together,” he said. “We’re just kind of at a loss and all dealing with the same pain. But we’re realizing we just want to do whatever we can for that family.”