I’m Gracie Parrish, and this is my story:
Our family’s transition to law enforcement life came as quite a surprise in April, 2013 when my husband Zack told me he wanted to leave his career in banking to pursue a career in law enforcement. Excited by this, we worked together over the next year and a half to make his dream come true. Zack burned the candle at both ends, working in banking by day while tackling the police academy by night. During this season of change, we also welcomed our first child, precious Caroline, to our family.
In January, 2015, I proudly watched Zack sworn in as an Officer with the Castle Rock Police Department. We were excited to become a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) family. About a year later, our second sweet daughter, Everly, was born.
I watched Zack flourish in his new career, earning the respect of both his peers and superiors. In June 2017, we took another leap of faith as Zack transitioned to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to pursue the next phase of his dream: Joining the regional SWAT team. Zack thrived again at Douglas County, once again building strong relationships with both those he worked with as well as those within our community.
But Zack never got the chance to achieve his goal of becoming a SWAT operator.
The Knock came at 7:55am on December 31st, 2017. “The Knock” is the dreaded nightmare of every LEO family, the unspoken fear that hangs over every LEO family, every shift, and has the potential to shatter dreams and change lives forever.
I rushed downstairs to find a Douglas County Chaplain & Sergeant standing on my porch. With every word, my world shattered and the ground fell out beneath me. They told me how my husband had spent most of the preceding evening trying to help a man with a long history of mental illness. Despite my husband’s attempts, his efforts were met with gunfire. Zack was shot numerous times by the man he tried to help, and did not survive.
My husband of 8 ½ years and the father to my two young girls was gone, along with all the dreams we shared for our future, and my life changed forever.
In that moment, I went from a proud LEO wife to a devastated widow. The only place I could turn was God. This was too big to endure on my own; I needed His strength, the kind of strength only Jesus could provide.
When we joined the Thin Blue Line, no one else in our family or close friends were a first responder. Zack was my only connection to this life. Every day brought new challenges, frustrations, and nuances to grapple with on our own. I knew I couldn’t be alone in this, but that’s exactly how I felt: Alone.
Shortly after Zack’s death, God made it clear to me to pick up the torch my husband carried in serving our community. Far too many of us in the first responder community only survive when we should be thriving together. I decided to follow the Lord and help fill the need for authentic, Godly fellowship amongst first responder families.
This was how The Shelter Foundation was born.
The Shelter Foundation is a non-profit working to bridge the gap in first responder communities to know, make known, and be known by God and each other through bible studies and marriage retreats. Through these efforts, we facilitate the kind of fellowship and support I needed but didn’t have. We knit families and marriages together in the name of the Lord, with the vision that no first responder family would ever have to face this life alone.
First responder life isn’t just a job, it’s a divine calling, filled with innumerable ups and downs. We believe the best time to build a firm foundation is before tragedy strikes; however, if tragedy becomes your reality, we will stand with you, ready as the hands and feet of Jesus. In the first responder family, no one fights alone!