Spouse of fallen Richmond County officer empathizes with Paugh family

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Sonja Hatcher knows the pain and disbelief. She knows the anger when a “senseless and selfish” act kills a uniformed officer who dedicated his life to protecting others.

Sonja Hatcher's first husband, Richmond County School Safety Officer Michael Stephenson, was the last Augusta-based officer to be slain in the line of duty. He was gunned down at Jamestown Elementary School responding to a burglar alarm in 1997.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Sonja Hatcher's first husband, Richmond County School Safety Officer Michael Stephenson, was the last Augusta-based officer to be slain in the line of duty. He was gunned down at Jamestown Elementary School responding to a burglar alarm in 1997.

Hatcher’s first husband, Richmond County School Safety Officer Michael Stephenson, was the last Augusta-based officer to be slain in the line of duty. He was gunned down at Jamestown Elementary School responding to a burglar alarm in 1997.

As a former law enforcement dispatcher and the spouse of a fallen officer, Hatcher had a visceral reaction to Sunday’s killing of Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy James D. Paugh.

“Oh my gosh, it’s happened to somebody else,” she said. “I really prayed for (Paugh’s family). I know that’s what got me through some of the toughest times. I just prayed God would give them a peace in it.”

Hatcher knew the risk her late husband faced when putting on his police uniform. For 13 years, she worked as a dispatcher calling officers into threatening situations.

“Their lives are on the line every day. They put themselves in harm’s way for the safety of the public,” Hatcher said. “I always knew it could happen.”

Yet she didn’t live in fear waiting for a phone call in the middle of the night and a knock on the door, as she received 14 years ago. Knowing that her husband handled threatening situations to the best of his ability eased her anxiety.

“My heart is with every law enforcement person and their families, whether they lose someone or not,” she said. “The worst thing is to live in fear and for it to actually happen.”

Hatcher, now remarried, would have been dispatching her late husband’s shift if she hadn’t left for another job just a few months before his death. Like Stephenson, Hatcher knows Paugh exemplified a dedicated officer, although she never met him.

“Very caring. Just going out of the way to help someone,” Hatcher said. “They just had a heart for their jobs. It wasn’t just a job. It was who they were.”

Hatcher described a “comfort beyond understanding” after the death of her husband and the outpouring of support from the community and law enforcement. The hardest part was knowing that other people and her two young sons, Jeral, now 21, and Michael, 17, would no longer experience his wisdom.

“Paugh and Michael are the kind of people that chose to influence other people’s lives in the good way.”

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Waymore
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Waymore 10/25/11 - 09:58 pm
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God Bless you, Sonja. I

God Bless you, Sonja. I thought about you yesterday when I rode by J.D.'s roadside memorial. We always mourn the fallen, but seem to forget about those left behind. I wondered what flood of emotion that you would endure. I thought about your kids and wondered how they were doing. I remember that morning. Thank you for retelling the story..Mike will always be with us, as will J.D.

david jennings
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david jennings 10/25/11 - 10:39 pm
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Yes Mrs. Hatcher I thought of

Yes Mrs. Hatcher I thought of you,Michael and your two young sons when I heard the news of Officer Paugh' death Sunday morning. I met you when I was involved in a room addition at your home. It was shortly after my family had became victims of a violent crime.
I can't believe those kids are young men now, how wonderful you were able to move on,and like you, I pray God will help J.D. Paugh' family and friends get through this as he did me.

AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 10/26/11 - 12:10 am
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I was remembering Officer

I was remembering Officer Stephenson, too (whom I had met) and wondered how Mrs. Hatcher is doing, too. Thank you for the follow-up article. May God continue to bless her and her family as well as J.D. Paugh's family.

hope7
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hope7 10/26/11 - 12:08 pm
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We are so sorry for your

We are so sorry for your loss. Our son-in-law is a police officer and we are truly grateful, more than we can put into words for him and your family. Prayers and support coming your way from a police family who cares.

LILMIGUEL2007
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LILMIGUEL2007 10/26/11 - 09:25 pm
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WOW I REMEMBER MICHAEL D

WOW I REMEMBER MICHAEL D STEPHENSON HE WATCH OVER US AT GLENN HILL MIDDLE SCHOOL HE IS A GREAT PERSON...R.I.P MICHAEL

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