The 32nd Judicial District Attorneyâ€™s Office hosted a reception in honor of law enforcement officers who have served and protected local communities and the state of Texas as part of National Police Week. During the reception, a documentary was presented, but not before a surprise presentation was made.
Sweetwater Chief of Police Brian Frieda stood among several former and current local law enforcement officers. "It was brought to my attention when I became Chief of Police that something happened at the Sweetwater Police Department in the past. There is no reason why this person should not be lifted up and praised when this person could have quite easily lost her life."
Chief Frieda went on to talk about the year 1977. "We didn't have body armor back then. Law enforcement officers just did what they did. They answered the call of duty and if they walked away unscathed, it was a good day."
He went on to say, "Today, we want to make up for a non-intentional oversight for a local law enforcement officer that showed tenacity, strength, wisdom and leadership after an injury she received in the summer of 1977 here in Sweetwater."
Chief Frieda called for former Sweetwater PD Sergeant Edyth Brothers and presented her with a Purple Heart.
The tranquility of a Fourth of July holiday morning was shattered by gunfire in Sweetwater on July 4, 1977, resulting in the serious wounding of Brothers and the death of three Sweetwater residents. Killed were Tony, Gonzales, Jr., his sister, Erlinda Garcia, 27 and her estranged husband, Daniel Rangel Garcia, 31.
Police received a call at 6:50 a.m. that morning reporting a domestic disturbance at 511 W. Oklahoma. Brothers arrived at the scene first and was going through the door of the residence, the home of Ynes Gonzales, mother of Gonzales and Mrs. Garcia, when Sergeant Johnie Rose of the Sweetwater PD arrived in another vehicle.
Police said Brothers was in the house as Rose left his car. Then he heard what he thought was a gun shot and saw Brothers stagger through the door, onto the front porch.
Rose then called for an ambulance and backup help before he heard several other shots in the house.
Police reported that Garcia, who shot Brothers using a 38-caliber pistol, then shot his estranged wife who was sitting in an armchair in the living room.
Gonzales then tried to run to the kitchen when he was shot in the back and killed by Garcia.
George Albert Santana of Abilene, brother-in-law of Gonzales, shot at Garcia with a 23-caliber Browning rifle, but missed. Garcia then fired back at Santana, also missing with the last bullet in his revolver.
Santana fired again, wounding Garcia, who then charged toward him, being wounded several more times before reaching Santana, who hit him with his rifle stock.
Rose, backed up by then Chief of Police Gerald Byrd, three Nolan County Sheriff's Department deputies and a district attorney investigator, reported that Santana then came to the front door and threw the gun into the yard.
All three victims of the shootings were pronounced dead on arrival at Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital where they had been taken by ambulance.
Officer Brothers underwent surgery at RPMH. The bullet had entered the right side of her chest and lodged in the lower left part of her back. She lost one kidney and a small part of her liver.
Reports state that upon entering the house, Brothers inquired as to what was the problem. One of the men in the house said, "This man does not live here," pointing at Garcia.
When Brothers asked Garcia if that was true, he turned and shot her.
Brothers was carrying a gun when she entered the residence, but had not drawn it when she was shot. She had been with the Sweetwater Police Department for 14 years, serving as a dispatcher until a year before the shooting, when she became an officer.
SGT Brothers retired in 1999 after 34 years of service. She is known at the Sweetwater PD as "Sergeant Mom."
"This was certainly unexpected," said Brothers as she was presented with a Purple Heart. "This is a great honor. Thank you for letting me work with you in the past. Be careful out there."