Even 30 years after his death, a memorial service honoring slain Wilson County deputy Ollie “Sammy” Childress Jr. was jammed with family and others whose lives were touched by the 1983 LaVernia bank robbery that led to his murder.
Tracy Childress, his granddaughter who is now a sheriff’s dispatcher and trainer in Guadalupe County, helped organize the event, along with other sheriff’s dispatchers in Wilson County.
Childress said she was overwhelmed by the turnout.
“(It) speaks volumes. He was a good man and having everybody here just backs that up,” Childress said.
Her uncle Roger, who also went into law enforcement soon after his father’s death, told the gathering, “If dad were here, he would thank all of y'all. Thank you very much.”
In addition to tributes by Rep. Henry Cuellar, State Sen. Judith Zaffirini and State Rep. John Kuempel , Childress was honored with a 21-gun salute, an honor guard and a permanent memorial at the base of the flagpole in front of the Wilson County Justice Center.
The ceremony also included the retiring of Childress’ badge No. 8326, an honor shared by his granddaughter and Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr.
Also during the ceremony, Childress broadcasted over dispatch radio, “You may now rest in peace, Paw-Paw. We’ll take it from here while you protect us from above.”
Earlier, she had told the gathering that she hoped the ceremony would serve to heal those who lived the ordeal.
Several of them took to the podium, including Al Garcia, the chief deputy at the time who found Childress’ patrol car and his body in the trunk.
“It was real rough. It’s been on my mind forever and it always will,” Garcia said.
Several bank employees said they also will never forget being terrorized by Pedro Sosa, Childress’ killer who is still appealing his execution claiming he is mentally challenged.
“He was in control (during) the whole situation. He let everyone know he was in control,” said bookkeeper Brenda Moore. “That is not someone who is mentally challenged.”
Wanda Von Minden, the bank’s vice president, said Sosa repeated, “I’m the sheriff now. I’m the sheriff, and of course, he had on Sammy’s hat, had his badge, had his shirt.”
Von Minden said 13 of her employees who were on the floor of her office did not dare move, fearing they would be killed.
She said at one point, Sosa “stuck a gun in my stomach and told me he was going to blow my brains out.”
Despite the trauma of that day -- still fresh after three decades -- Moore said the ceremony for Childress was welcomed and long overdue.
Moore said, “It does help. This is a fantastic day.”