With a light drizzle falling Wednesday afternoon, Jason Thompson, 11, and his brother, Christopher, 9, stood in front of a newly planted blue spruce and read a tribute to their father who died Sept. 28.
Jason, who wrote the one-page tribute on a piece of loose-leaf paper, began:
"My father to me meant the world. He was there for both my brother and I whenever he could. Now that he's gone, there's a big hole in my heart that can't be filled no matter how hard I try. I hope that someday that hole will be filled. Although it saddens me to think of him, I still have fond memories of the things we did together. . . ."
As his voice trembled slightly with emotion, he handed the paper to Christopher, who continued.
"Now that he is gone I will miss him more than ever. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who will miss him; my mom, my brother & the Sheriff's Department will miss him. Hopefully, this will turn out [for] the best. Maybe the misery will end soon and maybe it won't. Who knows?"
Deputy James R. Thompson, a 10-year veteran of the Harford County Sheriff's Department, died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
Faith Thompson, who was divorced from the deputy last February, explained what has happened to her sons since the death of her former husband.
"They have been having a difficult time understanding why Jim took his life," she said. "He [Jim] had always told them that if they had a problem it should be discussed openly, that nothing was so big it couldn't be overcome by talking about it."
Mrs. Thompson said the family was in counseling and coping "much better." She credited Kathleen LeBrun, of the Harford County Division of Emergency Operations, as the person most responsible for "pulling us through."
Because her former husband was a native of Michigan and his parents still live there, Mrs. Thompson had the body returned there for burial.
"My sons didn't fully under stand," she said. "They said that we were dad's family, too."
Mrs. Thompson asked Ms. LeBrun if there was anything that could be done to give the boys a place in Harford where they could feel close to their father. It was then that the idea of planting a tree came about.
"Bel Air town officials responded quickly," said Mrs. Thompson. "They selected the site, and the forestry service selected the tree."
About a dozen people attended the brief dedication ceremony. The tree is planted next to the town garage by the sheriff's office.
"I feel that it is so appropriate," said Mrs. Thompson. "My sons love all the officers who work here. They are like family."
For Mrs. Thompson, "Those boys are my strength," she said. "Together, we'll get through this."