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Monday, October 27, 1997

10 years later, family clings to memory of officer slain by teen drug users

By MIKE JACKSON / The Dallas Morning News

MIDLOTHIAN, Texas - Ten years have passed since a young narcotics officer - his cover as a high school student blown - was lured to a remote field and shot to death by a 16-year-old drug abuser.

Yet the memories remain vivid, the feelings acute.

"Around the anniversary I get weepy-eyed," said Sheryl Weatherford, one of Officer George Raffield Jr.'s sisters. "It's not a good day for me."

Former Midlothian Police Chief Bob Vaughn can still picture the 21-year-old former Boy Scout he hired to ferret out drug dealers at Midlothian High School.

"George Raffield was just a good young boy," Vaughn said. "Any parent would be proud to call him theirs. He gave his life for something he believed in."

And his family says he did not give it in vain. Drug awareness and teen counseling programs that were started within a year of Officer Raffield's death are still in place. His sisters have told the tragic story over and over to warn young people away from drugs. And an annual $500 scholarship for Midlothian High seniors is named in the rookie officer's honor.

"I think of him every time I walk into the Midlothian Police Department," said Ellis County District Attorney Joe Grubbs, who back then was a private lawyer assigned by the courts to defend the youth accused of pulling the trigger.

This quiet Ellis County town of 6,000 was used to teenagers cruising the streets and maybe occasionally buying beer with a fake ID. But premeditated murder by one so young - by a Dallas police officer's son - was hard to fathom.

Overnight, Midlothian was thrust into the national news and forced to face the sobering reality that the serene community was no longer immune to the effects of drugs.

"We all wanted to say that happens someplace else," Grubbs said.

But on Oct. 23, 1987, it happened in Midlothian.

The courts later determined that three teenagers and a 23-year-old accomplice had conspired to kill Officer Raffield.

Freshman Greg Knighten shot Officer Raffield in the back of the head after suspecting that the student he knew as "George Moore" had gathered information on drug buys by Knighten and his friends.

Convicted of murder, not capital, Knighten and accomplice Richard Goeglein are serving 45-year prison sentences. Neither answered a request to discuss the case or their lives since, though Grubbs said he knows Knighten has obtained his high school equivalency diploma and taken at least some college-level courses in prison.

For their parts in the crime, Jonathan Jobe and Cynthia Fedrick both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit capital murder. Jobe was sentenced to 10 years, Ms. Fedrick to eight. Each served about 20 months before being paroled. Jobe could not be reached for comment. Ms. Fedrick has remained in Ellis County, where she says the crime has left her life a shambles.

The killing, Grubbs said, wrought a change in the way Midlothian residents perceive their community. The city lost its innocence, he said. People became more street-savvy and determined to deal with drugs.

Officer Raffield's death "almost marked the end or beginning of a period," the district attorney said. "Even now, I have less crime in Midlothian than in any other city in the county."

Officer Raffield's family still mourns, but his sisters say that in some ways the community gained from their loss.

"God meant for my brother to make the sacrifice, and God meant for us to come forward so that he won't be forgotten," said Sherrie Walker.

A Drug Awareness and Resistance Education program, commonly known as DARE, was set up as a result of Officer Raffield's death, said Vaughn, who retired as chief earlier this year. And a volunteer group called REACH was formed to give teens someone to talk with about problems and to sponsor drug- and alcohol-free events. Both programs are still in effect, Vaughn said.

But the most enduring benefit to the community, Officer Raffield's sisters said, is a book called "A Hero Named George." It is a children's version of the longer book "Innocence Lost," written by the same author, Carlton Stowers.

"The thing that keeps the story alive is the reaction that the kids have to the book," Ms. Walker said.

Though written for elementary school children, "A Hero Named George" doesn't sugarcoat the story. It describes Chief Vaughn's plan to root out high school dope dealers by assigning an undercover officer to find them.

And it describes how Knighten and Goeglein lured Officer Raffield to a wooded area south of town by telling him they planned to meet a friend there to buy marijuana.

"Suddenly three shots rang out," the book reads. " 'Bang! Bang! Bang! ... He was dead."

The chilling story is a lesson to children on how drugs can lead to big trouble.

"One bad decision like the one Greg Knighten made can affect your life and the lives of a lot of other people that you care about," Stowers said. "... There's a very strong message in that story for kids."

The book has been embraced by police departments and schools in the Dallas area and as far away as San Antonio and Wichita Falls, Stowers said.

Teachers invite the author to speak to their classes. And Officer Raffield's sisters and former Chief Vaughn have often gone along to talk with students.

"They all sit there and they want to know more and more information," said Ms. Weatherford, Raffield's sister.

Students typically ask what the family was doing when they learned Officer Raffield had been killed, and how they felt.

Ms. Weatherford replies that the family was gathered together listening to a police scanner as law enforcement officers searched for her missing brother. A voice said Officer Raffield's pickup truck had been found. Then, "Victim located."

" 'Victim' means death," she said.

A few minutes later, the family turned on the TV for more news. There, they saw "an aerial view of the truck with the body lying next to it," Ms. Walker said.

The family remains bitter about that image.

"Don't show the body," Ms. Weatherford said. "When you see that picture of him lying face down in the dirt, you're thinking he's been there all night. Where's his dignity?"

Ms. Weatherford said she cries sometimes when she answers the children's questions.

"But I don't want them to think that they should stop asking questions because I'm crying," she said. "Crying is natural and it is part of what the family goes through."

For several years after the murder, the family set out a plate for Officer Raffield each Thanksgiving. But his mother, Shirley Moore, never put up a Christmas tree again.

"It wasn't fun anymore," Ms. Weatherford said. "He was the one who put up the lights. She didn't want the constant reminder."

Ms. Moore died in February. Officer Raffield's father did not want to be interviewed, his sisters said.

Sometimes after the sisters' talks with schoolchildren, one or two will pull them off to one side with personal concerns.

"They'll come up to you and say, 'You know, my brother or sister is doing drugs and I don't want this to happen to them,' " Ms. Weatherford said.

Perhaps, Officer Raffield's sisters said, the lesson of their brother's death helps.

"We've turned a personal tragedy into some positive things," Ms. Walker said. "I've vowed that I wouldn't let his sacrifice be forgotten."

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