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Children help teacher say goodbye to 'Trooper Brad'

By AMY J. SCHATZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 1998


SPRING HILL -- Courtney Dill couldn't take it anymore.

Just yards away, her teacher, Miss LaMonte, sat quietly, head bowed, tears streaming down her pale face. They had begun to flow with the playing of All-4-One's I Swear. It would have been her wedding song.

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Courtney, 8, got up from her pew, raced up to the front of Grace Presbyterian Church and gave her favorite teacher a bear hug. Dozens of Courtney's second-grade classmates soon followed.

It was a somber procession of 8-year-olds, little girls in pink sun dresses and scuffed white sandals; little boys in Sunday school clothes, tennis shoes peeking out from beneath pressed slacks. They carried back to their seats expressions too old for such young faces.

"Miss LaMonte looked like she needed a hug, and Courtney looked like she needed a hug," the girl's mother Valerie, 29, said after the service. "This has been difficult for all of them."

Hundreds of mourners filled the Spring Hill church Friday night to remember James B. Crooks, the Florida Highway Patrol trooper shot to death last week by gunman Hank Earl Carr. The service also was dedicated to Carr's other victims, Tampa police detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell. Most, however, came for "Trooper Brad," and the fiancee he left behind: Nadine LaMonte, 25, and a first-year teacher at Deltona Elementary School.

Crooks was a familiar sight at the school. He would often show up after work to talk to the kids or help LaMonte. He helped set up science fair projects. He even scrambled eggs for LaMonte's class on Green Eggs and Ham day this year.

Unlike the memorial service last Saturday for Crooks, this service was mainly for the benefit of LaMonte and those at Deltona Elementary. She is scheduled to return to school Monday and declined to comment about the ceremony. It was an attempt to give everyone at the school closure, principal Janet Dunleavy said.

"This is a perfect and valuable lesson for (the students) in spirituality," Dunleavy said. "This is for Nadine and her family and is our way of being closer to (them)."

For most of the service, LaMonte sat with her family in the front pew. She moved to the front dais for the playing of the couple's favorite songs, including My Heart Will Go On from the Titanic soundtrack. After the service, LaMonte received countless hugs from neighbors, friends, fellow teachers and especially, the children.

They were everywhere. From the line of second-graders solemnly handing out programs to the uniformed members of Boy Scout Troop 433, Gulf Ridge Council, who held open doors for mourners after the ceremony.

"I don't think she comprehends the full impact of it," said Denise Mengler, as she watched her daughter, Mallory, hand out programs. "She's only 8."

As the ceremony went on, weeping children began climbing onto their parents' laps. Cries of "mama" mingled with muted sniffles as the congregation paid its last respects.

"Brad Crooks was a gentleman who knew something about the proper sense of integrity," said the Rev. Paul Clemons, the church pastor who gave the eulogy. "Trooper Brad will live on in our hearts, our memories, forever."


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