Pamela Hotsinpiller calls them “Whispers from God.” They are a series of events, too numerous to mention, that helps her get up each morning.
Some may call them a series of random coincidences. She knows better. Whether it was an event at a Bible study, a series of messages in books, a U.S. Marshal calling and spending the night during a trip or even a dead bird in a chimney, Pamela Hotsinpiller was, and is still, hearing subtle messages.
Those “whispers” allows her to take her head out from under her pillow, tell herself it’s time to move, let her know everything happens for a reason and then provides her with the strength to get down on her knees and pray.
Praying of a morning is nothing new. She’s done it for some time now. Pamela Hotsinpiller was praying the morning of Feb. 16, 2011. Praying for friends, praying for those less fortunate and praying for protection for her boys – both of whom were in law enforcement – was part of her daily routine.
There was the oldest, Dustin, who followed in the footsteps of his father, the late Jim Hotsinpiller and became a Bridgeport Policeman. And the youngest, Derek, whose ambition was to become a U.S. Marshal, which is exactly what he did.
Little did Pam Hotsinpiller know what this day would bring. It was a day that would change everything, test her faith and, ultimately, lead her to putting it all in God’s hands.
Early that day, 24-year old Deputy U.S. Marshall Derek Hotsinpiller was in Elkins. He was there to bring in a drug suspect. Unfortunately, the suspect – Charles E. Smith – wasn’t about to go easy. Smith opened fire on the Marshals. Three were hit, including Derek. While the others were treated and survived, it was Derek who would later be pronounced dead at the local hospital.
“The doctor was there trying to explain to me about the surgery and I finally looked at the doctor and said ‘Just stop, you’re going to tell me he didn’t make it.’ Once the doctor shook his head, I just couldn’t breathe,” Pam said. “After a moment there were a few thoughts that gave me some kind of momentary numbness and not all of it in a bad way.”
The first thought was that she was beyond certain that when Derek passed, he was greeted on the other side by his father Jim; a former lieutenant in the Bridgeport Police Department who passed away in December of 2001. The second thought was that this job was a job Derek loved and his mother truly believed he was always willing to put his life on the line every time he put on the uniform. At the same time, she knows her oldest Dustin, a detective for the past six years with the Bridgeport Police, feels the same way.
And now Dustin knows it’s his responsibility to do exactly what his mother has been doing for him since his father passed away.
“When dad passed, my world changed in the blink of an eye. You’re in a situation where you wanted to be the man of the house, but I didn’t want to be a father to Derek. I wanted to be his brother,” Dustin said. “ … We did what brothers do. We argued, supported each other and horsed around. It gave us a sense of normalcy in a difficult time. I just never dreamed it would get this difficult, even more difficult, again. I need to be strong for mom. I tell myself it’s okay to feel normal, but sometimes things happen and, well, it’s just not normal.”
Two days after the first anniversary of his brother’s death, Dustin was reminded of the perils of law enforcement again when Monongalia County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Todd May was killed while on duty. It brought it all back home, particularly when Dustin took part in the memorial for May.
“I sat in that crowd. It was déjà vu. We walked past the family and I’m thinking I’ve been there where they’re at and the worst part is that I don’t know what to say,” Dustin said. “You want to tell them it gets better with time and that, eventually, it’s going to be okay even though it doesn’t seem that way. It’s just tough to look at another family going through what we’ve already been through.”
One thing mother and son agree on is that love and support will come from all angles for the May family, just as it did for them. And for the Hotsinpillers it would and still continues to come in droves.
“I just keep using the word overwhelming. It never stops and it’s very much appreciated,” Pam Hotsinpiller said of the support. “I just keep saying thank you and when I say thank you it’s more than words. Every time I say it I say it knowing God has filled it with sincerity and gratitude.”
In recent months, the federal GSA building in downtown Clarksburg was named in Derek’s honor. Most recently, the Bridgeport boys’ basketball team retired his number.
“Sometimes when someone approaches you with an honor like that you feel guilty that we’re seeking the limelight. We’ve told those who want to honor Derek to do what they feel is right because there are so many good men and women making sacrifices,” Pam said. “Still, we’re so humbled that someone wants to honor Derek for something he’s done. It’s amazing that people loved Derek that much.”
Dustin said it’s rare a day goes by without some type of support offered. More important to Dustin was the support he saw the day before and of the funeral for his brother.
“There was law enforcement there from Canada from California and all over offering support,” Dustin said. “He was there to serve and protect and everyone now realizes that there’s peril in doing that even in small little Bridgeport and Elkins.”
Dustin and Pam Hotsinpiller still look after one another. They also look after Megan Kinkelaar, Derek’s long-time partner whom Pam insists Derek was “going to marry.” The pair also looks after Dustin’s wife Ashley and the newest addition of the Hotsinpiller family Landon, Dustin and Ashley’s pride and joy.
“Landon helped shed a ray of hope on our situation because it gave us something to focus on each day. Hearing a heartbeat for the first time, finding out it was a boy and now raising him. It’s about Landon and by raising him right we honor Derek and dad,” said Dustin. “ … You know, the hardest time is rocking Landon to sleep and I sometimes get this overwhelming sense of loss. It’s odd because at the same time I have an overwhelming sense of joy from our child. That joy helps keep me going.”
Pam Hotsinpiller does more than just pray to keep her mind focused. Caring for Landon has been a huge part of getting some sense of normalcy. She loves being with her grandchild, calling him a “joy, such a good baby.” Still, the key thing is making a list of what she wants to get done each day.
“I make sure I have a list of things that need to be done because I don’t just want to be a piece of the floor. The first thing on the list is Bible study,” she said. “ … At the end of the day I look at the list and realize I got through the day and then check on Dustin, Ashley, Megan and Landon. Once that’s done, I make my list for the next day.”
It’s clear after talking with Pam Hotsinpiller that she’s a woman of faith. It’s more than a word or a trite expression on a bumper sticker. For her, it’s tangible, real and sustaining. And, yet, she’s the first to admit this situation has at times put her faith to the limits.
“I’ve been angry. There was a day I was screaming mad and I pounded my first so hard it hurt. I kept asking, 'why.' I told God that if there was anything that could drive a mother crazy and drive me from Him and His trust, this was it,” she said. “I realized that I couldn't understand this so He was going to have to wrap His hands around me and just make sure my head didn’t blow up. So far, He hasn’t let that happen.”
With her head firmly in place, Pam and Dustin are able to laugh at some of Derek’s past actions. They talk and joke amongst themselves about his collections. He collected quarters from all the states, U.S. Marshal patches, and knives and, yes, he had quite the Beanie Baby collection.
“I used to feel bad laughing about anything for a while,” Dustin said. “I tell Megan you have to be happy again. I want that for her. The biggest thing is that you can’t be afraid to laugh and when you do that you can find peace. For me, I find the greatest peace when I’m knee deep fishing in a stream. That’s when I know I’m the closest to him.”
For Pam, she said she finds it easier to laugh as the months pass. But she readily admits she continues to grieve. Ironically, she added, it’s part of the healing process. That process, she said, is one that can only be completed in a way she knows won’t happen.
“When I see his name on that federal building, I think I’d just like to see his name renewed on his driver’s license,” she said. “That and to hear him talk to me just one more time.”
Maybe she won’t hear from Derek until Pam, too, passes to the other side. Then again, maybe she’ll hear something second hand from Derek. Perhaps she’ll here something in those “Whispers from God.”
Editor's Note: Pictured on the cover is Ashley, Dustin, baby Landon and Pamela Hotsinpiller. Inside, Derek is shown with his long-time love Megan, while in the bottom photo boys are being boys as each tries to get the upper hand. Connect-Bridgeport would like to thank the Hotsinpiller's for telling us their story and for all that their son, brother and friend gave of himself to this community.