A call to serve
Kristen Hearne set out to be a nurse, her mother said. She worked for a time in the oncology wing at Floyd Medical Center but had a hard time letting go of the bonds she formed with patients.
“She became involved in (the patients’) lives,” Brewer said. “I kept telling her, baby girl, these people are going to die. They’re sick. She said ‘Mama, I can’t help it. I want to save them.’ It became overwhelming to her.”
Hearne decided on a career in law enforcement and found her niche. She quickly moved up the ladder, starting as a jailer in Floyd County before returning home to Polk, where she achieved the rank of detective.
“She felt like she was doing something important, that she was making a difference,” said her husband, Matt Hearne, a lieutenant with the Aragon Police Department in Polk County.
But family always came first.
Last April, when Brewer was diagnosed with uterine cancer, Kristen was by her side.
“That child was right there holding my hand,” Brewer said. “She said, ‘I can’t live without my mother.’ ”
On the day before she died, Hearne pondered her own mortality.
“She talked to me Thursday afternoon. About Isaac,” Brewer said. “She said, if anything happened to her please take care of my baby. I said ‘Kristen, don’t talk this junk to me.’ There’s nobody who could replace you.’ “
That night she had a similar conversation with her husband.
“While Isaac was playing at the park we had a long discussion about finding another job outside of law enforcement,” Matt Hearne told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The thought of (Isaac) being without one parent, or both … that was constantly in her mind when she went to work.”
On Friday morning, Brewer was on the phone with her daughter when Hearne said she needed to call her back.
Soon after, Brewer noticed a cacophony of sirens passing by her home on U.S. 278. Then more patrol cars passing by. She texted her daughter but received no response. Her son called Hearne but there was no answer.
A neighbor, a former city employee, called and said he needed to speak with them. He drove up a few minutes later with the news Hearne had been shot.
Brewer didn’t know if her daughter was alive or dead.
“Less than 10 minutes later (Polk County Police Chief) Kenny Dodd pulled up in my driveway,” Brewer said. “He came out of the car and he was crying. And I went running to him and said, ‘Where’s my baby?’ “
Dodd broke the awful news: “She didn’t make it.”
“That is the worst nightmare I have lived. And I have lived it over and over and over all yesterday and all night,” Brewer said Saturday. “And I’ve gotten text messages from people all over the world I didn’t know. From people I grew up with. They’re all saying they’ll pray for me. But it’s not taking this pain away.”
Matt Hearne, off duty at the time, was approaching the scene where his wife was killed, unaware of what had happened, when he was flagged down by Polk County deputies.
“The sheriff came running up to me completely distraught,” he said. “He told me get to the hospital, Kristen’s been shot.”
By the time he arrived, it was too late.
“I almost died right there with her,” said Hearne, overcome with emotion. “Kristen was the love of my life. Nothing will ever change that.”
On Friday afternoon, the Brewers and their son-in-law watched from their front yard as Hearne’s body was given a police escort down U.S. 278. On Saturday, they started planning for her funeral.
Matt Hearne calls his son a miracle. The Hearnes were told the odds were against them ever having children due to fibroid cysts that had formed in Kristen’s uterus.
“I was raised by a minister,” Brewer said. “We were raised to believe God could do all things.”
Four years ago, on Father’s Day, Kristen called her parents to say she was pregnant.
“The look on her face was indescribable,” her husband recalled. “I’ve never seen someone so happy.”
Isaac was born on Valentine’s Day 2014 — but not breathing. After resuscitating him, the baby had multiple seizures. He remained under sedation for more than two weeks, Brewer said.
“They brought him out of sedation and that child has never had another seizure. No damage. Nothing,” she said.
Kristen Hearne’s life revolved around her son.
“She loved anything she could do with Isaac,” Brewer said. “Taking him to the zoo. Taking him to play miniature golf. Taking him to the aquarium. She wanted to take him to ride the train. Anything that involved that child.”
Brewer and Hearne said they don’t know how they’ll break the news to Isaac. A local child psychologist got in touch with the family Friday and offered to help.
“Our main focus is that baby,” Brewer said. “Our hearts are broken and we feel like we’re sinking. But we’re going to have to rise above all this because he is the number one thing right now.”
They want Isaac to know how much his mother loved him — about how she was a hero, to her family and to her community.
“They don’t make many like her,” said Frank Hilburn, a retired captain with the Rockmart Police Department. His son, Brent, was good friends with Kristen. “She was a beautiful person.”
Brent, born with a brain tumor, always had plenty of friends but, his father recalled, most of them were afraid to get too close because of his illness. But not Kristen.
“Brent had never been to a school dance or had a date,” Hilburn said. “When he was a senior, Kristen offered to be his date to the prom. You should see the picture of them, the smile on his face, just grinning ear to ear.”
Before he died, Brent told his father that date with Kristen was the greatest gift he ever received.
“I know we’re not supposed to question God but when something like this happens, you just can’t help but wonder why,” Hilburn said.