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Slain Aiken officer's partner mourns loss, looks ahead

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Frances Williams keeps the contents of Car 203 in a little wooden chest that sits on the hearth.

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Frances Williams holds a photo of herself and her partner, Sandy Rogers, the Aiken Public Safety officer killed in the line of duty Jan. 28, 2012. "She was my wife," Williams said, though the two could not legally marry.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Frances Williams holds a photo of herself and her partner, Sandy Rogers, the Aiken Public Safety officer killed in the line of duty Jan. 28, 2012. "She was my wife," Williams said, though the two could not legally marry.

It’s filled with odds and ends – a coffee cup, a pair of ear muffs, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a beat-up ticket book cover and other random items collected during her partner’s 12-hour shifts patrolling the streets of Aiken.

“Look at all this stuff. I don’t know what to do with it,” Williams said. “What can I do with it? I can’t throw it away.”

More memories fill every room of the little house on Redds Branch Road in Aiken.

There’s a glass case crammed with horse figurines, a collection of commemorative beer steins lining the wall in the den and a big blue Ram pickup parked outside.

It’s all she has left of the life she shared with Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers.

When Rogers was gunned down Jan. 28, 2012, while investigating a suspicious vehicle near Eustis Park, Aiken lost a police officer and a dedicated public servant.

Williams lost her friend, companion and lover of 27 years.

“She was my wife,” said Williams, who was never officially married to Rogers. Such a union is not allowed under South Carolina law.

Those who knew Williams and Rogers, however, knew them as a couple – a domestic partnership as intimate and mundane as any other marriage that had lasted for almost three decades.

“We were in the phase where we were talking about retiring in a couple of years,” Williams said. “We would have been in a Winnebago, driving all over the country.”

A year later, she feels lost and alone.

“Sandy was always the driver. I was the co-pilot,” she said. “How am I going to go on a trip now? I don’t know how.”

‘Fine with who she was’

It was 1984 when Williams first saw the energetic young woman wearing an Aiken public safety uniform.

“I kept hearing people say they hired Jack Rogers’ daughter,” said Williams, who had become a public safety officer in 1981.

Rogers’ father was an Aiken business owner who had worked as a volunteer firefighter and a reserve officer with the department for years.

“We had never met, but I saw her somewhere and said, ‘Oh, so that is Jack Rogers’ daughter,’ ” she said.

It took about a year for the two women to get to know each other.

“We were both very sports-oriented,” Williams said. “We both played basketball in high school. We were on different softball teams and we were very competitive. We became friends and kind of doubled-dated for a while and we realized we were soul mates.”

Within a couple of years, they were living together in a house on Sharyn Lane in Aiken.

“In our relationship we had our own little jobs,” Williams said. “She was financial and mechanical. I was more operational.”

“Operational” meant cooking, cleaning and running a home, which included the same frustrations other homemakers encounter on a daily basis.

“She did not know where the dirty clothes hamper was,” Williams said. “You could have the clothes hamper right here and she would put her clothes right beside it.”

Although they kept their relationship to themselves, Williams said it wasn’t easy for two young women working together in what was essentially a man’s world.

“We caught hell at work,” she said, explaining that it was to be expected because theirs was also an interracial relationship in a conservative Southern city.

Williams said she finally left the Public Safety Department in 1996 because of comments and tension over their relationship. She’s now a public safety officer at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

“We were treated badly sometimes,” she said. “A supervisor told Sandy once that as long as she was with me she wouldn’t get promoted – stuff like that. Sandy rose above it.”

Williams said attitudes have changed in recent years.

“I would say today, even before Sandy was killed, Public Safety became more accepting of it,” she said.

Aiken Sgt. Jake Mahoney said Williams was respected as a fellow police officer and considered a family member of the department as much as any spouse.

Even so, friend and neighbor Alethea Spann said that she knows the two women had to endure some difficult times to stay together but that they were committed to each other.

“This was the ’80s. It was not an easy time to be a female police officer, much less in this kind of relationship,” said Spann, who also is the spouse of an Aiken Public Safety officer.

“Sandy never liked labels,” she said. “She said you love who you love. It does not matter who they are, what sex they are or anything else about them. You love the person.”

At the same time, Spann said, Rogers was also intensely private and was not interested in breaking down social barriers or making a public display.

“As a person, she was not very public with feeling or her emotions,” she said. “She was perfectly fine with who she was.”

‘I see that every night’

Williams has two images that stay with her every day.

One that she wakes to every morning is a photo beside the bed. The couple are decked out in formal black and white. Williams stands proudly behind her partner, who stares serenely into the camera.

The other image is one that haunts her every night. When she closes her eyes she remembers her stricken partner, lying wounded beside the road after being shot three times.

“I see that every night,” she said. “Not many people know that I responded to the scene.”

Williams said the morning Rogers died began as a normal Saturday. Rogers rose first and reported to her shift at 6 a.m. Williams arrived at USC Aiken just before 7 a.m.

She recalls that Rogers stopped by briefly to visit with her not long after. They talked about their day and planned to meet for lunch.

Then the call came over the radio – two suspicious vehicles near Eustis Park. Two other officers – Jacob Pridgen and Brenton Russo – were dispatched.

Williams said that, as usual, Rogers wanted to be where the action was.

“When the call came out, she said, ‘Let me go back up my guys,’ and she left,” Williams said.

Police say Rogers arrived at the scene and approached one of the cars – a blue BMW driven by Joshua Tremaine Jones, a troubled young man with a history of violence and emotional problems. Investigators said he had come to the park after fleeing the Augusta apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Cayce Vice. Police would later find Vice shot to death in her bed.

Things quickly went bad, Williams said.

“I heard Jacob say, ‘Shots fired,’ ” she said. “Jacob was calling Sandy’s number trying to get her to respond. Then he said, ‘Officer down.’ ”

Williams, along with every other available police officer, was soon responding to the scene. She continued monitoring radio traffic along the way, hoping to hear Rogers’ call number – 203.

“When I was responding, I didn’t really know who was down,” she said. “As I got closer, I heard everybody talking, but I but never heard Sandy.”

Williams said she knew for certain Rogers was wounded when one of the officers at the scene tried to stop her. She would not be deterred.

She went to Rogers’ side and rode beside her in the ambulance.

“While we were on the scene they started losing her and I talked to her and she came back,” she said. “It happened again in the ambulance, and I talked to her and she came back.”

Rogers was pronounced dead at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. Even the doctor was crying, Williams said.

“I thought the worst part was over, but dear good old Sandy was an organ donor,” she said. “Even though she was pronounced dead, she wasn’t for several days.”

She said Rogers was kept on a ventilator and pumped with fluids while doctors harvested her organs. The process only served to prolong the pain of her death, she said.

“I thought getting on the scene and walking around that corner and seeing her on the ground was bad, but this was worse,” she said.

‘A part of that family’

Sandy Rogers’ death – the third killing of an area police officer within four months – drew national attention.

The first was Oct. 23, 2011, when Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy James D. Paugh was shot on Bobby Jones Expressway near the Fort Gordon exit. Police said Army Spc. Christopher Michael Hodges, 26, shot Paugh before taking his own life.

On Dec. 22, 2011, Aiken Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Rich­ardson was killed and another officer was wounded during a shootout on Brandt Court. Stephon Morrell Carter, then 19, of Aiken, was charged with murder and attempted murder in Richardson’s slaying.

Williams said that up until that Saturday in January, her life with Rogers had been acknowledged only among family and friends. Those who knew them knew, she said. But their relationship wasn’t a subject that was discussed, even with family.

For example, although she and Rogers shared an anniversary – Feb. 2 – with some members of the Rogers family, it was never talked about or celebrated.

“They never knew our anniversary was the same as theirs,” Williams said. “We were just very respectful of everybody because some people were not ready.”

With her partner’s death, things changed.

Williams was thrust into the center of a very public coming out – a massive funeral attended by hundreds of officers, city officials and state politicians, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

“This was dealt with very publicly,” Williams said. “Her being an officer, everybody in the U.S. knew about it.”

The public exposure put a strain on everyone involved, Williams said. Her relationship with Rogers’ family quickly deteriorated. Rogers left her property, including the house and truck, to Williams in her will. Not everyone was happy with that.

Now lawyers are involved, she said.

“Things are bad between me and the family,” she said. “I was a part of that family for 27 years.”

There were other slights and hurts when Frances Williams said she felt pushed to the side, as though her relationship with Rogers wasn’t real, such as a posthumous award from the city for Rogers that was presented to Rogers’ father. Richardson’s wife received his award, she said.

There was also the matter of her partner’s personal effects. By law, they go to the next of kin, she said.

“They wouldn’t give them to me. They had to give them to her father because he was the next of kin,” she said. “I’m not saying that I’m not bitter about some stuff, but all in all, that’s Sandy’s family. It is her family.”

Rogers’ older sister, Jenny Johnson, described their relationship with Williams as “estranged,” but declined to elaborate. She said she hoped there was room for reconciliation.

“I’ve opened the door, and my dad’s opened the door,” Johnson said. “We still care about her and we still love her and when she is ready we will still be here.”

Spann said it is was hard to watch someone Sandy Rogers loved so much being hurt. She said it seems some have tried to separate Rogers’ persona as a police officer from her private life, but it's a mistake not to accept Rogers as a “whole, real person.”

“If she taught me anything, it’s that you cannot have Christianity without humanity,” Spann said. “You can’t have humanity without respect and tolerance and love. She loved God, she loved her family and she loved Frances.”

Comments (26) Add comment
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Cynical old woman
1111
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Cynical old woman 01/26/13 - 08:16 pm
9
2
Powerful love

What a strong love these two women must have had for each other! Opinions and prejudices yet their bond to one another lasted so long!! Crying shame those who loved the deceased and were loved by the deceased most are at odds.

jmo
17636
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jmo 01/26/13 - 08:25 pm
11
0
God bless all of the

victims' families. And, burn the thugs!

soldout
1280
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soldout 01/26/13 - 10:26 pm
3
0
The Word

This is sad in many ways.

corgimom
36459
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corgimom 01/27/13 - 06:37 am
11
1
To Officer Williams- please

To Officer Williams- please accept my deepest sympathy over the terrible loss that you are experiencing. Grief is awful, I hope that you will find comfort and peace in God's love. I am so sorry that you are having to endure more pain. My thoughts and prayers are with you. And yes, she was your wife.

seenitB4
93470
Points
seenitB4 01/27/13 - 08:49 am
5
1
Officer Williams

My words are the same as corgis ^^ I too hope you find some peace in the days ahead.....

rmwhitley
5547
Points
rmwhitley 01/27/13 - 09:27 am
0
0
Ms.Williams
Unpublished

and Ms. Rogers appear to have been a loving couple who, because of their personal orientations, did not feel the need to suck the life from others such as n.o.w. and all of the groups that believe I owe them something. God bless Ms. Williams and the Rogers family.

scooter32
44
Points
scooter32 01/27/13 - 11:11 am
5
1
I agree with Corgiman as well.......

I agree with corgiman as well, but after reading this article over and over I was wondering why did Jenny Rogers and Sandy's father close the door to Officer Williams in the beginning? These two women had been together for 27 years! Sandy's Father and sister Jenny Rogers apparently pretended they loved Officer Williams until Sandy's death. I feel that once they found out that the deceased left Officer Williams the house and truck, how quickly things changed! But that's what happens when a person die! You really find out what kind of people you're dealing with . So I feel that they didn't care for Officer Williams at all!
My prayers go out to you Officer Willams! I hope and pray that GOD will continue to bless and keep you. May HE give you peace that passes all understanding... Continue to trust in HIM !! I pray that you will soon be able to rest at night instead of reliving that horrible night. Grief is a process and you too will overcome it! Officer Sandy Rogers loved you and that in itself is enough!! Be BLESSED!!

Austin Rhodes
2970
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Austin Rhodes 01/27/13 - 12:42 pm
11
0
Amazing work Steve Crawford!

If this is not Exhibit A in the case to legalize domestic partnerships, I don't know what could be. The term "marriage" tends to be religious in origin, so let the religious people keep it. But when it comes to establishing a household and a life together, gay folks need the same protection under law that married people have.

jessicalee803
13
Points
jessicalee803 01/27/13 - 01:32 pm
4
0
Bravo Augusta Chronicle

This was one of the best articles I have read in along time. It had me in tears. These women shared a love that not everyone finds. After 27 years Officer Williams deserved to call Master Corporal Rogers her wife. My thoughts and prayers are with you Officer Williams. I hope the family sees that is about a woman they all loved not the material items left behind.

InChristLove
22481
Points
InChristLove 01/27/13 - 02:41 pm
1
7
Odd that people pick out

Odd that people pick out certain statements of an article and just assume they know what has transpired between Frances and Sandy's family. How a statemnt concerning the personal possessions of Sandy somehow gets twisted into statements of greed by her family. We must remember that a father, a mother, a sister, and possibly other close family members, are also greiving the loss of someone they love. Could it be that the home Sandy owned was a family homestead of maybe a home her parents helped purchase and they wish it to be kept within the immediate family. If Sandy purchased the home on her own and she wished to leave it to Frances then I would agree that the home should be Frances. If it is a family home, then I can see where her father or family would want to keep it within the family, especially if they had personal issues with the lesbian relationship.

It appears the two women's relationship was acknowledged by the family but possibly not all accepted it since it was not discussed with the family. Sandy's sister stated that the family is willing to restore the relationship but for one reason or many reason that has not come about. “I’ve opened the door, and my dad’s opened the door,” Johnson said. “We still care about her and we still love her and when she is ready we will still be here.”

Prayers that Ms. Williams and the family of Sandy Rogers can forgive each other, grieve together, and the relationship between the two families be restored. Let's not condemn or project Sandy's family as being the evil ones when we do not have all the facts involved.

shrimp for breakfast
5503
Points
shrimp for breakfast 01/27/13 - 10:36 pm
4
0
Frances

I'm so sorry for your loss and hope you find comfort in knowing you were and are loved.
May peace be with you all of your days.
Again I'm sorry for all of the pain you're experiencing and if I could take some onto myself I would.

philsreel
26
Points
philsreel 01/28/13 - 08:34 am
4
0
Sad but great story.Prayers

Sad but great story.Prayers to Ms.Williams ,you are a hero in my eyes.Steve Crawford you did a great job on this story.

Family mama
8
Points
Family mama 01/28/13 - 10:14 am
4
0
Sad how people show a differant side

It is so sad that Ms.Williams lost her partner,love, wife,friend in such a tragic way. Sandy's love for Francis was known to all her friends and relitives. She also made it known in her Last Will. Sandy's wishes are not being followed by those Sandy choose to carry out her last wishes.How sad, how tragic is that?! Why should Francis be treated this way. Everything was fine until the Will was read and those in charge realized that Sandy had left EVERYTHING to Francis.Funny how things changed after that.Francis, there are many,many people who love and apprieate all that you do. Know that you are loved by many, many people in Aiken Co.

GnipGnop
12692
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GnipGnop 01/28/13 - 01:24 pm
1
0
So you assume that they assumed...

and then assume yourself? Makes sense to me....

Time1
171
Points
Time1 01/28/13 - 03:30 pm
0
0
corgimomCould not have said

corgimom

Could not have said it better.

mycomments
339
Points
mycomments 01/28/13 - 05:08 pm
3
0
While I empathize with Ms.

While I empathize with Ms. Williams, one must realize that life is not fair nor equal. The law does not recognize partnerships or unions other than marriage. She and Sandy knew this when they met and began their relationship 27 years ago. I believe the family should recognize the life partnership and respect it by doing what their daughter and sister wanted. Especially since the law doesn't. But until the law is changed, it should be no surprise that these are the constraints that those who engage in this type of relationship must live.

InChristLove
22481
Points
InChristLove 01/28/13 - 06:19 pm
3
0
gnipgnop

My comment was in response to what scooter32 wrote and since the poster stated he/she had to read the article several times, I would come to the conclusion that scooter32 does not personally know Frances or Sandy's family. He/she states that they wonder why the family could close the door to Frances and then proceeds to state that the family doesn’t really care and never did care for Frances. If you don’t know the family how can you say they never really loved Frances?

So if scooter32 does not know Sandy’s family, does not know Frances and does not know all the facts in this situation it is reasonable to believe that scooter32’s comment is based on opinion/assumption based on what he/she has read concerning this. The fact could very well be that Sandy’s family has always and still does care deeply for Frances, and for some reason known to them, they do not agreed with the house and truck being given to Frances (why, doesn’t make sense to us, but maybe to them it does).

So yes GnipGnop, My comment was based on an assumption I gathered from what I read from the what was posted by the commenter. (Did the commenter not do the same with what they read?) Isn't that how opinons are formed? Did you not assume, that I assumed, that they assumed?

My opinion was neither for nor against anyone, just throwing a comment out there that sometimes there are circumstances known only by the family that we are not aware of, and to start degrading the family before all facts are known may not be fair to the family or an actual depiction of the situation between Sandy’s family and Frances.

It is sad for Frances and the family and like I said in my earlier post (which evidently was overlooked) I sincerely hope that they can work through this issue and restore their relationship and I hope that all involved will have peace to deal with Sandy's passing.

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 01/28/13 - 10:01 pm
2
2
I just thought it was humorous

that you made an assumption after saying that they were making assumptions...so no I didn't assume...it was factual...no offense intended

.

lcrandall1819
14
Points
lcrandall1819 01/28/13 - 10:02 pm
2
0
Disappointed

At this time, the people who knew and loved Sandy are still hurting and grieving her loss. I can only imagine the pain and sorrow that they are experiencing on this, the first anniversary of her death. Most of us have the opportunity to grieve the loss of our loved ones in the privacy afforded to us as private citizens. Most of the time there are family squabbles and hurt feelings over how our dearly departed chose to live their life and who they chose to leave their earthly belongings to. While these disagreements are sources of hurt and pain to those of us left behind, they are typical in most families. I feel that any individual family who is going through this should be allowed to sort it out in private. These issues are family matters and really don’t have a place in community discussion. Taking the most personal and private tragedy of one family to use as a discussion point on a broader social issue is just wrong. While I completely understand that the tragic death of a prominent community leader who gave her life protecting our community is also a very public tragedy, I still believe that those closest to her should be allowed to grieve their loss and work out their differences in private. Honestly, how many of us would like to have the inner workings of our private family life discussed and put on display in such a manner?
I do not pretend to know the intimate details of this family, but I do know the kind of people they are. They are good people. People we have chosen to do business with for nearly 50 years. When my parents were just starting out, 19 years old, a baby in arms, my father working at the mill, and essentially no credit, Jack Rogers allowed them to pay for their much needed tires on credit. He trusted them and they honored that trust by making sure to pay on the account as much as they could. He never harassed them or questioned them if they needed car repairs and had not quite paid off the previous balance. During one period of time, they were hardly able to pay anything due the fact that my father had been in a serious car accident which required a back surgery and left him in unemployed and in a half body cast for six months. During this time they paid whatever they could afford, but were never refused service by Jack Rogers.
Growing up, I remember a time when I was driving a lot of miles on a weekly basis to help take care of a terminally ill relative. My father wanted to make sure that my car was safe for me to be going so far away from home. He went with me to Jack Rogers’ Tire. When they asked what we needed to have done to the car, he simply told Jack to do what he would do if it were his daughter driving the car. Then we went home. He trusted them enough to give such open ended instructions and leave them to their work. As a young adult, this left quite an impression. I realized the value of having such long term relationships built over decades in the same community. Over the years, they have extended credit to many people who have needed it. While I know that there have been plenty of people who have not honored their agreements, I recognize what a huge risk it is for a small business to extend such credit and I appreciate it. There have been times when I have been behind on my account and I am still treated with dignity in their place of business. I know that it has made a difference in my family’s life. I can take my vehicle to them without any hesitation or concern that I will be taken advantage of.
So while we may not agree with how any one family handles disputes, disagreements, hurt feelings or the like, I would argue that those are private issues and should never be part of public knowledge to begin with. If not for the tragic circumstances of her death, we would not even be privy to them. And in my opinion, we have no right to intrude and discuss them in such a manner. We are all human, we all have family differences and I am certain that nearly all of us have someone in our family with whom we have difficulty relating to. In the time of loss, most families experience hurt feelings inflicted upon us by people we love. Her family is just that…a family. One very much like the ones we have. She was a hero and her death should be mourned by our community and beyond, but to discuss the personal differences between those that loved her is a great disservice to her memory. Let’s focus on Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers’ character, her love for our community, her commitment to her loved ones, and to the sacrifice she made to protect each and every one of us.

InChristLove
22481
Points
InChristLove 01/28/13 - 10:16 pm
1
4
Well I guess people find the

Well I guess people find the oddest things to be humorous.

To be accurate, the commenter was making an assumption based on what they thought was going on with the family. I made a comment based on what the commenter stated (so really it wasn't so much an assumption as an evaluation) and gave a different view point, and you just assumed it was funny to post an unnecessary negative comment. Oh well, glad you got a laugh.

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 01/28/13 - 10:22 pm
3
2
lighten up....geesh

lighten up geesh

InChristLove
22481
Points
InChristLove 01/28/13 - 10:49 pm
1
4
Lighten up??? Didn't feel

Lighten up??? Didn't feel there was a need to lighten up, but I suppose that's the typical response from someone whose joke didn’t come across as sarcastically funny as intended. I'll try and remember to laugh next time.

freeradical
1144
Points
freeradical 01/29/13 - 05:57 am
1
1
It is to bad that individuals

It is to bad that individuals such as these are not able to accept all

the benefits of civil unions when offered on a individual basis .

The fact is that in every state , without exception , where all beneifts

have been offered thru civil unions the homosexual lobby has

scuttled , and rejected it .

Every time .

They are their own worst enemies .

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 01/29/13 - 07:15 am
5
2
Wow...

You take everything that seriously? I will remember not to comment on anything you post as you obviously have either no sense of humor or are just looking for a confrontation....

InChristLove
22481
Points
InChristLove 01/29/13 - 09:07 am
1
5
GnipGnop, I find your

GnipGnop, I find your comments interesting and by no means was looking for a confrontation? I wasn't the one that found it necessary to make a derogatory comment and claimed it to be humorous, and I have a wonderful sense of humor but fail to see where this was the appropriate article to crack jokes. Catch me on the rant and raves and then I might view your comment as funny, or if you choose, don't comment on my post.

Time to move on....

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 01/29/13 - 10:46 am
4
2
Lol

It wasn't derogatory. It was irony...look it up. My humor in no way took away from the tragedy of this article. Have a nice day.

polly6119
2
Points
polly6119 01/30/13 - 08:39 pm
0
0
I'm with GinpGnop. Lighten up

I'm with GinpGnop. Lighten up InCristLove. He was right. Just because you got defensive doesn't make him wrong. I read it, had a chuckle, moved on. You freaked out.

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