ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (WDRB) - It's a picture that has gone viral - a little girl posing with state troopers from Kentucky and Ohio while holding one of their hats in her hands.
The picture was taken by Sarah Yockey of Elizabethtown on Friday evening following the funeral of slain Kentucky State Police trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder.
Yockey and her daughter Isabella Gregory, 5, had stopped for ice cream at the McDonald's near the Radcliff Police Department when the little girl saw six Kentucky troopers along with an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper.
It was then that Isabella told her mother she wanted to treat them to ice cream.
"She used her allowance she earned this past week to put smiles on their faces," Yockey said Saturday. "She said, 'Their friend died, and it's not fair because he has a family too.'"
Trooper Eric Homan told WDRB News that he and fellow KSP troopers Tony Duncan, Chris Lee, Joseph Boyce, and Pat Hamilton, KSP detective Jeff Kelley and Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper Sgt. Chris Smith had stopped to get something to eat and to decompress after the funeral around 6:15 p.m.
"We drove all the way from Ashland, had left at 5:30 a.m. and none of us had eaten anything all day," Homan said. "We were finishing up eating and Isabella comes out of no where and she's holding a tray of ice cream sundaes. She stepped right in between us all without fear and was so proud to thank us for protecting her and her family."
"Was a long day, and after a long week we were physically and emotionally drained," he said. "Her gifts of ice cream and her words of encouragement was more than a treat for our stomachs. It lifted our spirits."
The group took a picture, which was shared on social media late Friday night by Yockey and the troopers. (KSP Trooper Duncan was not shown in the picture).
"Thanks to this fine young lady who used her allowance to treat us to ice cream today after the funeral services," Homan wrote in the post. "We needed that! Relief comes in all different shapes and sizes ... Thank you for supporting us Isabella, you are living proof of what makes coming to work everyday worth it."
Yockey also posted on her Facebook page:
"Today Isabella-Marie and I met some amazing men in uniform. These state troopers protect us on a day-to-day basis and risk their lives for my family and yours. The least we can do are small things such as buying them ice cream or a simple 'Thank You.' Their love and support for the kind act my daughter showed today is amazing. Thank you so much for putting a smile on my daughter's face."
Homan and Yockey's posts had nearly 4,000 shares combined by Sunday.
"I had no idea that so many people would share it," Homan said. "After we left Radcliff, we agreed the ball is now in our court to pay it forward as we will soon return back to work in our communities to serve the public."
Yockey says her daughter has formed a life-long friendship with the officers. She mentioned inviting them to her birthday in March.
"I truly can not thank them enough for the impact they had on my daughter," Yockey said.
The five Kentucky troopers in the picture are from the Ashland post, while Smith is an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper assigned to the Ironton post.
Ponder, 31, a native of Rineyville, was shot and killed following a traffic stop Sept. 13 in southwestern Kentucky.
Nearly 1,100 police cars from law enforcement agencies across Kentucky and the United States were part of Ponder's funeral procession Friday from Severns Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown to Kentucky Veterans Cemetery in Fort Knox.
The three-hour procession was crowded by thousands of people who braved 90-degree heat and lined the streets to show their support. Many of them waved American flags and held signs as the procession drove up U.S. Highway 31 West in Elizabethtown and Radcliff to Fort Knox.
Ponder had initially pulled over a black Dodge Avenger driven by Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks of Florissant, Mo., for speeding on Interstate 24 near the 58 mile marker after 10 p.m. on Sept. 13.
A KSP spokesman said Ponder had been arranging for overnight lodging for the suspects fellow travelers, including two children, when suddenly, Johnson-Shanks took off.
Moments later, Johnson-Shanks stopped his vehicle and shot Ponder. After a short manhunt, Johnson-Shanks was also shot and killed by police when he refused to drop his weapon.
Ponder, a Navy veteran, had been on the state police force less than a year. He was taken to a hospital, where he died shortly before midnight.
During Ponder's funeral on Friday, KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer thanked all of those who have supported his department during this difficult time.
"As we move forward weeks, months and years ahead, we will continue to fulfill our mission to serve and protect all segments of society," Brewer said. "It's an oath we took, as Cameron knew, that's non-negotiable."
"We will do it under a cloud of grief and mourning because of Trooper Cameron Ponder's sacrifice. Our world will never be the same again."
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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