Elizabeth Snyder’s world turned upside down in an instant.
The young wife and mother is now a widow, after her husband was killed in the line of duty.
St. Louis County Police Officer Blake Snyder was shot and killed while responding to a call in south St. Louis county earlier this month.
For the first time since his funeral, Snyder’s family is sharing their story of loss and healing.
Elizabeth Snyder smiles when she remembers the first time she met her husband, Blake. Faith played a significant role in each of their lives, and they met at church.
“We were both leaders in the youth group,” she said. “And we both started out with a friendship, a really good friendship.”
That friendship soon blossomed into something bigger. Before long, Elizabeth introduced Blake to her family. Her brother, St. Louis County Police Officer Justin Sparks, was skeptical of any man interested in his little sister.
“He was going to have to prove himself. He was going to have to show his true colors,” Sparks remembers.
“He was full of honor from the day I met him,” Sparks continued. “And I never had to worry about her. I knew that he would protect her. I knew that he would love her, and I knew that he would do absolutely everything in his power to give her the life that she deserves.”
Blake and Elizabeth married in 2013. Soon, their family would grow to include a son, Malachi.
“When we found out we were going to have Malachi, I have never seen someone’s face light up so bright, you know? He couldn’t wait to be a father,” she said. “He loved Malachi so much. He was a great role model to him.”
Blake Snyder worked as a graphic artist for several years before deciding on a career change. He first mentioned his interest in policing to his wife.
“He… knew my family was full of officers,” Elizabeth said. Her brother serves in St. Louis County, her late father served in Granite City, and her uncle serves in Maryland Heights.
Snyder’s brother-in-law was quick to steer him away from the profession, knowing just how difficult it is.
“I said, OK, this is the deal buddy — I said, "You go do anything else first," because that’s what my father told me,” Sparks explained. “You cannot do this job as a job. You cannot do this job as a career. It will eat you alive.”
Blake couldn’t be deterred. Soon, he signed up for the police academy and joined the St. Louis County Police Department.
“I knew when he decided to take the plunge and become a police officer that he was going to do it with everything inside him,” said Sparks. “And that’s exactly what he did.”
“He loved it,” Elizabeth added. “He absolutely loved his job.”
And like most police spouses, Snyder’s wife worried about him, non-stop.
“Every night. And there’s always that sense of relief when they do come in the next morning,” she said, fighting back tears. “It’s a lot to deal with. But he loved it so much, so I told him to keep doing it.”
During the early morning hours of Oct. 6, Officer Sparks was already at work when he heard something bad happened in south St. Louis County.
“Originally I knew it was in the Fourth Precinct, but I knew Blake was in the Third [Precinct]. But I sent him a text anyway,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m on a warrant – are you OK?’ And he did not respond.”
When Sparks learned his brother-in-law was involved in some way with the shooting, he immediately called Elizabeth and raced to her home. The pair drove to St. Anthony’s Medical Center together.
News of Blake’s death left them stunned.
“We’re in the car, and Justin gets another call, and we’re about five minutes from the hospital, and I could just see it on Justin’s face,” Elizabeth said.
“When I got to the hospital, it was on the faces of all my fellow brothers,” Sparks said. “I could see it then. I knew what they were doing. So I just tried to run through them to get into the ER. I just thought I could save him.”
“I just don’t think it’s totally set in,” added Elizabeth. “That this happened to my Blake.”
As Snyder’s family mourned his death, they were joined by many in the St. Louis region. In the hours after the shooting, a memorial of flowers marked the spot where it happened. The precinct where he worked was flooded with gifts, and blue lights and blue ribbons donned the front of many homes nearby.
His funeral services drew thousands of people, including police officers from around the country. Strangers lined the overpasses and roadways along the nearly 50-miles funeral route to his burial place in Godfrey.
The officer’s family saw it all.
“I had no idea that there were so many people that supported police officers, and supported Blake,” Elizabeth said. “It was amazing, amazing to see the love that can come out of something so horrible.”
“Certain things stick out to me so clearly,” Sparks remembered.
“Completely random strangers crying on the side of the road. People dropping to their knees when we would pass, praying on an interstate. People that would put their hands in a heart and say — I love you,” he continued. “Every single one of them — we saw you. We appreciated it. It touched our heart.”
“All I can think is that [Malachi] will always know what his father did, and that’s in thanks to the community,” Elizabeth said. “Because they are a huge part of remembering Blake. It’s overwhelming, the support from everyone. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
Justin Sparks will return to work as a police officer, despite all that’s happened.
“I’m honored to. I’m going to make Blake proud and I’m going to honor him every single day,” he said. “That’s what I was called to do, and until that calling changes, I will put the badge on. I will go out and serve my fellow man – just like my brother did.”
Loved ones say Blake would be touched by the outpouring of support. They believe he left a legacy of healing.
“When you saw something so beautiful could come out of something so heinous, there’s hope there. There’s hope for us yet,” Sparks said.
“This shows that there are people out there that love law enforcement and see what they do,” Elizabeth added. “We just pray that continues, and that more people come to the realization that [police] are here for them. They are risking their lives for them.”
Elizabeth now wears her husband’s wedding bands on a delicate necklace chain. One band is made of metal — the ring they exchanged on their wedding day. The other band is made of a soft, flexible material.
It’s black in color, with a thin blue line across the middle. Officer Snyder wore that ring on duty.
“I will always have them on,” she said.