Mourners pay respects to Rangers fan

BROWNWOOD, Texas -- When the side door opened to the First United Methodist Church of Brownwood after more than an hour service celebrating the life of Shannon Stone, uniformed firefighters wearing white gloves began to line the path leading from the door to the street where a Brownwood Fire Department ladder truck waited.

A stream of firefighters and emergency medical support personnel slowly followed and formed straight lines six deep behind the firefighters. Fellow mourners began to trickle out of the church and assume spots on the lawn to stand and silently wait under a blazing midday sun.

Across the street, about 60 fire trucks and emergency vehicles from Brownwood and points beyond -- Dallas, Arlington, Aledo, Houston, Conroe, Gorman, Eastland Rising Star and Comanche, to name a few -- were lined up in the Brownwood High School parking lot, ready to form what would be a mile-long procession on the eight-mile trek to the cemetery.

Finally, the church door opened again. Led by a bagpiper punctuating the hot, still air, six Brownwood firefighters, three on each side, carried the wooden casket and gently placed it into the back of the fire engine that would escort Stone -- a husband, father, firefighter and lifelong baseball fan -- to his final resting place.

As the fire engine began to roll forward, Stone's wife Jenny and his 6-year-old son, Cooper, walked hand-in-hand. Just five days ago, the young boy, wearing a red jersey and a brand new baseball glove, watched his dad fall 20 feet over the railing from their left-field bleacher seats at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington onto the concrete beyond the outfield wall.

For the firemen and police officers among the approximately 1,000 mourners that attended the service, the scene had all the markings of a funeral they've attended before given their line of work.

This looked and felt like one of those times, a fellow firefighter killed in the line duty.

And for all the days that Stone, 39, had put his life in jeopardy as a civil servant over the past 18 years, it certainly could have been. But for one of life's most innocent and enduring pursuits for a father and son to have been Stone's final day is and forever will be unfathomable.

"I know for this community it will always be just kind of a mind-boggling thing," said Luke Kilmartin, a 23-year-old Brownwood resident who attended the service and works at a fitness center where many of the firefighters train. "To lose someone regardless of how they're lost is always a tragedy and nothing less, but it's to know how we get to remember him and it's to know how we get to recognize him and his family and to support them and to love them and to watch Jenny and Cooper continue to push on."

The family did not permit media into the church service or the cemetery, but those who attended told of an uplifting service, one that touched on Stone's love for his family, his inseparable bond with Cooper, his sense of humor, his love of life and his passion for baseball.

Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan relayed to 103.3 FM's Galloway and Company on Monday that he attended the service. He said he was struck by how well Stone was liked and respected in the community.

But as much as Stone's love of baseball was the theme, the Rangers and that fateful day were hardly mentioned, if at all, witnesses to the service said.

Johnson County Sheriff Sgt. Ron Russek II knew Stone since 1990. He worked with Stone's dad Al, a retired police officer with the Cleburne Police Department, and then Stone's brother Chad, a former dispatcher with the Johnson County Sheriff's Department.

Russek is also a baseball fan and knows Rangers Ballpark well, having also worked there on occasion as a freelance photographer for a couple of news agencies.

He had heard about the accident after it happened on Thursday as he tuned in and out of the news, but he did not hear a name. It wasn't until the following day that he heard the fallen firefighter was Shannon Stone.

"You're there for the day with your son and it was just like, 'How is that right?' " Russek said. "There's a lot of deadbeat fathers out there that don't have anything to do with their families and then you've got a guy who loves his kid and he's doing like the perfect ..."

Russek, a father of two daughters and a son, all of whom he's taken to Rangers games over the years, didn't finish his thought before shifting to his own early memories of attending baseball games with his dad.

"I was born and raised in L.A., so we had season tickets to the Dodgers," Russek said. "And I know our ritual type of thing, we'd get our [frozen chocolate] malts and when it was hard and you had to wait for it to melt a little bit, you'd [draw] like a little infield in there [with the wooden spoon]. Brother and I and sister, and dad took us to those games.

"That's what I'm relating to when I see this. I'm like, how horrific regardless of who it is. And it's the next day that [I saw on the news] his name, and I'm like, 'Oh wow, this is more than just horrific, I know him.'"

That's what an entire nation is relating to today as the community of Brownwood came together to say goodbye to Shannon Stone and wrap their arms around his wife Jenny and his young, adoring son Cooper.

Hopefully, Cooper can again make baseball a part of his life. Hopefully, he can continue to cheer for his favorite player, Josh Hamilton, whose toss up to Stone in the bleachers after a routine, second-inning foul ball resulted in this incomprehensible tragedy.

And hopefully, one day when Cooper is a dad, he'll be able to take a son or daughter and delight in a trip to the old ballpark.

Jeff Caplan is a reporter for ESPNDallas.com.