A Reluctant Hero of Oklahoma City
On April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City was shaken by a bombing at the Alfred Murrah Federal Building, which left 168 dead, including 19 children at the building’s daycare center while their parents worked. Oklahoma City Police were among the first to arrive at the scene to rescue survivors.
Sergeant Terrance Yeakey and his friend, Officer Jim Ramsey, were among the first officers to reach the scene of the bombing on that fateful morning. Sergeant Yeakey rescued at least four people before falling through two floors of the building and injuring his back. In the aftermath of the bombing, Yeakey was a rather reluctant hero, shying away from the attention that came from his daring rescue of survivors. His supervisor, Lieutenant Joe Ann Randall, was quoted by the New York Times saying, “There are some people that like to be heroes and some that don’t; he was not one that wanted that.”
Only three days before Sergeant Yeakey was to receive the Oklahoma City Police Department’s medal of valor, his body was found in a field just 30 miles outside of Oklahoma City, near his hometown of El Reno, Oklahoma. Officers responding to the scene declared his death a suicide. Sergeant Yeakey’s untimely death deeply shocked his family and friends; he left no note, and his friends recalled no suspicious behavior from Sergeant Yeakey in the days preceding his death that may have hinted at an impending suicide.
At the time of his death, Sergeant Yeakey had served with the Oklahoma City Police Department for six years and was one of the officers who taught the department’s youth anti-drug program (DARE). Fellow officers of the Oklahoma City Police Department described Sergeant Yeakey as “bringing joy to the department” and even an inspiration to fellow officers. His colleagues acknowledged that Yeakey was a reluctant hero, but they never thought that his humility would lead to suicide. They, and the students he taught in the department’s DARE program, all remember Sergeant Yeakey as a positive member of his community, with a good sense of humor and booming voice that made him an imposing and influential figure in many of their lives.
A growing number of officers are dying by suicide every year. A 2019 study showed that it is likely that more police officers will die of suicide than in the line of duty, as dealing with the stresses of policework can add to mental health issues.
Today, a number of resources are available for law enforcement officers who are struggling with stress management on the job and suicidal thoughts, including SAFLEO, the National Suicide Awareness for Law Enforcement Officers Program. For more information, visit www.valorforblue.org/SAFLEO, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or use the Crisis Text Line by texting BLUE to 741741.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.