When state police Cpl. Steve J. Ballard was pronounced dead from gunshots last week at Christiana Hospital, Delaware Gov. John Carney attempted to console his wife Louise.
Instead, the composed widow and mother comforted the governor, and even managed a bit of levity in her most excruciating moments.
“Stephen wanted to be governor,” she told Carney. “He was coming after your job.”
Carney drew lighthearted laughs when he told that story Friday during Ballard’s funeral service. The governor was joined by Ballard’s widow, father, fellow troopers and ministers in telling inspirational, heartwarming and sometimes humorous stories about the slain officer to about 3,000 mourners at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington.
The 32-year trooper, an 8 ½-year veteran, was gunned down at close range April 26 in the parking lot of a Wawa convenience store in Bear after approaching two men in a suspicious vehicle. The murder suspect, Burgon Sealy Jr., was shot to death by police the next morning in Middletown, authorities said, after barricading himself overnight at his father’s house, firing at officers repeatedly and then emerging with a weapon.
Ballard’s 2 ½-hour service, which was preceded by a 2-hour visitation, was punctuated by the image of hundreds of troopers from as far away as California, Colorado and New Mexico, standing solemnly in formation for hours in the driving rain outside the Chase Center on the Riverfront. Earlier Friday, two processions of police vehicles drove from Christiana Mall to the service, briefly closing the northbound lanes of Interstate 95.
About 2,500 people gathered in the Chase Center’s cavernous Wilmington Hall for “A Farewell Salute.” Police from 36 states joined Ballard’s family and friends as well as Delaware’s political and law enforcement dignitaries. In a separate conference room, about 500 members of the public watched the service on a large screen.
Speakers celebrated the life of an only child from an Air Force family who gravitated to law enforcement after graduating from Delaware State University and loved being a state trooper.
The Rev. Meredith Griffin, who gave Ballard’s eulogy, said the trooper told him he wanted to get involved in politics eventually, though he didn’t mention wanting to be governor.
Ballard told the pastor that he went into law enforcement because if he wanted to drive public policy and laws as a politician, “I really needed to know what is going on in our communities.” The trooper was that rare individual who was “actually taking the road less traveled,” Griffin said.
State police Superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen Jr. frequently fought back tears as he praised the dedication of the first Delaware trooper shot to death since 1972.
“Steve fought the good fight with dignity, grace and a contagious smile,” McQueen said. “He was a constant ray of sunshine.”
McQueen said Ballard distinguished himself by earning two lifesaving awards – one for helping to locate an unconscious person who tried to commit suicide, the other for performing CPR to revive someone who was unconscious and unresponsive.
Now Ballard is tragically gone, a victim of the violence he tried to solve and prevent. “Our hearts are broken,” McQueen said.
The police superintendent told the audience that unlike most of his troopers, Ballard didn’t hesitate to invite him to his wedding in 2015.
Troopers appreciate members of the executive staff showing up “but they also appreciate when we leave so the party can begin,” McQueen said, drawing laughter.
Ballard, however, was happy to have the top trooper join the festivities. McQueen said he was touched by how Ballard told Louise’s daughter Abigail: “When I marry your mother, I marry you.”
Louise Ballard, an attorney, wore a stoic expression and smiled warmly as she stood by his flag-draped casket and greeted teary-eyed mourners for two hours before the service. Among them were three members of Delaware’s congressional delegation, who presented her with a folded U.S. flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on the day her husband was killed.
Addressing the audience later, she remained calm and poised.
She thanked everyone for attending, and said she would always be there for the state police whenever they needed her.
Her husband, she said, “just moved through life without asking for anything in return.”
Having so many people pay their respects and say goodbye, she said, “is his victory.”