News 12 First at Five / Monday, Jan. 28, 2013
AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- One year later, under somber gray clouds, vibrant bundles of flowers sit quietly at Eustis Park only a couple blocks from the Aiken Department of Public Safety Headquarters. One year ago Monday, Eustis Park was the scene of so many tears. Many of them were shed by Frances Williams.
"I thought it was a routine call, and then I heard it going bad. I knew somebody was hurt, but I didn't know who,” said the Aiken resident who’s an officer for USC Aiken.
The two officers were together the morning of Jan. 28, 2012. She says she and her 27-year life partner, Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers, had talked about getting lunch later that day. Rogers left Williams to respond to reports of a suspicious vehicle near the park on Edgefield Avenue. It wasn’t Rogers' call, but she decided to go anyway to back up two other officers.
A short while later while listening to her police scanner, she heard chaos erupt. An officer was down. Williams rushed to the park that sunny Saturday morning.
As she soon found out, when Rogers approached the blue BMW, police say she was shot multiple times by the driver, 26-year-old Joshua Jones of North Augusta. Police later found out that Jones had just fled from Augusta where he allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend, Cayce Vice.
"Every day I try to relive her last moments to know how she felt. Was she OK? Was she hurt? Was she scared? Questions I'll never get an answer to,” said Williams, a year later.
Rogers was pronounced dead a short time later at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. Williams was by her side from the ambulance to the hospital.
"We completed each other. We could have a conversation, finish each others' sentences. We could not even be talking but have the same thought,” she said.
Even though same-sex marriage and civil unions aren't recognized in South Carolina, Williams says Rogers was her wife. They met 28 years ago. At the time, both were officers at Aiken Public Safety.
"People had their own opinions, so we just rose above it. We know people didn't like things, so we didn't put it out there for them to see. We were very private about our relationship,” said Williams, who eventually was spurred to leave Aiken Public Safety. She then took the job at USC Aiken.
A year later, she’s built up a shrine to the woman she calls a true blue warrior. A woman who Williams says was stern, if not mean, at first, but always professional. However, Williams says, she had a fun side, too. One photo shows a smiling Rogers partially submerged in a Florida pool while hugging a dolphin. Williams also points out the "sports room" where Rogers would serve up drinks from her very own bar.
"She was behind the bar. She was mixing concoctions that I'd never drink because I knew better, but she'd mix them and she'd hand them and say, 'Here, taste this. It's not bad.' You know,” Williams said.
But the relationship between Williams and Rogers' family has been rocky. She says she had to fight to get the mementos she has, but more importantly, she says she'll always have 27 years of precious memories.
In addition, she also has a tiny handwritten note framed away with some other photos. Williams says Rogers wrote the note only a few days before the tragedy and passed it on to an unsuspecting Williams. It reads: "The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you."
As for Jones and his antics at the bond hearing, Williams says she’s still speechless. She shared with News 12 that she attended the bond hearing that day from behind a mirrored glass wall. Ironically, she lives only a little over a mile from the Aiken County Detention Center where Jones now sits behind the bars of his maximum security cell.
Williams says she’s preparing to make the trip to Washington, D.C., this spring for National Police Week. Last year, supporters raised money for both friends and family members of both officers to attend. Since Officer Scott Richardson’s end of watch was in 2011, he was honored in 2012. Rogers will be honored this spring. Williams says she and Rogers had actually traveled to attend National Police Week before. Now, Williams plans to make a trip alone as she still searches for answers and healing one year later.