NAPPANEE — Larry Thompson stood outside the former Curtis TV & Appliance Friday in downtown Nappanee. Sounds from the city’s annual Apple Festival filled the air as he spoke with reporters.
He was remembering.
Thompson, Nappanee’s mayor, recalled the days when Tom and Sheri Bradway owned Curtis TV. He said their sons, Rod and Chip, played sports at NorthWood High School.
“If you played football at NorthWood, you were a star in everybody’s book,” the mayor said, adding that Rod was a great kicker.
Thompson shared his memories about the Bradways, a family that on Friday suffered a grievous loss.
Rod Bradway, 41, an Indianapolis police officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty early that day. Authorities said a man hiding behind an apartment door shot Bradway as he kicked his way in, responding to a woman screaming for help after being held at gunpoint for three hours.
Bradway had been talking to the man for several minutes before the woman’s screams prompted him to kick in the door, police said.
The alleged gunman, 24-year-old Steven Byrdo, was killed in a subsequent gun battle with police.
Thompson termed Bradway’s death a tragedy, and said the community is feeling for Tom and Sheri.
“They’re going to have a really strong support system here,” he said.
That support will aid a family that is part of the Nappanee community fabric.
A former Nappanee firefighter, Thompson recalled Rod and Chip coming to the station with their grandfather, also a firefighter. Thompson also said he served on the school board with Tom Bradway. And Tom and Sheri owned Curtis TV for several years — Thompson was sad when they closed the store.
“(It was) one of those old stores where people would come in and pay them on a Friday when they got their paychecks, and Tom and Sheri would make sure they had a TV or whatever they needed,” he said.
Thompson had high praise for the Bradways. So did Rich Dodson, an assistant NorthWood football coach when Bradway was on the team.
“Rod comes from a very solid family,” Dodson said Friday afternoon. “He had good values taught to him. He exhibited those good values in the classroom as a student and on the field as an athlete.”
Dodson said he’s not surprised Bradway chose a profession in which he could help people. He also said it was hard on the Nappanee community to hear of Bradway’s death.
“We know Rod’s going to be in a good place,” Dodson said. “We’re glad he had an opportunity to serve his life the best he could be in a proud way.”
Jay Olson, vice principal at NorthWood, was a teacher when Bradway was in school.
“A hardworking kid, and somebody that lived up to their potential,” he recalled of Bradway. Olson is also a former assistant football and track coach, and recounted a standout game from Bradway’s football career at NorthWood.
Bradway kicked a 51-yard field goal in the last few seconds of the NorthWood-Warsaw game in 1989, his junior year. The final tally was 24-21, NorthWood’s.
“You don’t forget something like that,” Olson said.
Bradway isn’t the first law enforcement officer with Nappanee ties to die violently in the line of duty.
On Nov. 3, 1988, Sgt. Brant “Butch” Nine was shot and killed when he and his partner, Ptl. Phil Hochstetler, answered a call concerning a forgery suspect.
The suspect, Michael Steele, was inside Newcomer’s Jewelers, 107 S. Main St., attempting to buy something with a bad check. Sgt. Nine walked through the front door of Newcomer’s and confronted Steele. A struggle between the two men began and both men were rolling on the floor. Jeweler Brad Newcomer, Nine’s brother-in-law, joined tried to help Nine subdue Steele. Steele drew Nine’s weapon and shot Nine one time in the chest. Hochstetler arrived and approached the front door when Steele fired a shot in his direction, but the bullet hit the door frame. Hochstetler returned fire and shot Steele in the jaw.
Nine died later at Elkhart General Hospital. Steele was also taken to Elkhart General. He was treated, released and charged with murder of a police officer and attempted murder. Steele is currently in prison serving 110 years.
Almost six years later, Hochstetler himself was shot to death in Warsaw.
Hochstetler went to the home of David Swearingen on June 29, 1994, to investigate a stolen guns case. During a brief conversation at the door with Swearingen, Swearingen shot Hochstetler. Swearingen then turned and shot and killed his own children, Kacy, age 4, and Code, 18 months. He tried to kill his wife, LeAnn, but his gun jammed. Swearingen then went outside and shot Hochstetler again, killing him.
Swearingen ended up being killed by police in a police chase two days later.
“Looking at the size of Nappanee, the thought that we’ve lost three officers killed in the line of duty in the past 25 years is extremely sad,” said Jim Sumpter Jr., Nappanee’s chief of emergency medical services.
As word of Bradway’s death spread through the Nappanee Apple Festival Friday, people were shocked and saddened by the news that another member of their hometown had been killed in the line of duty.
Russ Miller, former owner of John’s Butcher Shop, said he just returned from a trip to Indianapolis when he heard the news.
“I knew his parents (Tom and Sheri) a lot better,” Miller said. “The family was very active in NorthWood sports. It’s too bad — we’ve lost too many that way. And so young. He and Phil (Hochstetler) were so young.”
Apple Festival Director Lora Beachy also felt the pain.
“It’s quite personal to me as I lived in that metro area for a year,” said Beachy, who hadn’t realized when she first heard the news that the officer was a local man. “It’s sad. Our sympathies to the family.”
Deb Hostetler was shocked when she received the news. Her son, Brent Green, played football with Rod at NorthWood and they graduated in 1991.
Brent Green found out the news from his mother.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the Bradway family,” Green said. “Rod was a great guy who always gave 100 percent, no matter what it was. Though we lost touch after high school, I’m sure he was a loving husband, father, son and brother. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.”
Goshen News Regional Editor Sheila Selman also contributed to this article.