BARDSTOWN, Ky. (AP) — The widow of an ambushed Kentucky police officer said Tuesday that her husband, who was gunned down when he stopped to pick up road debris on his way home, will be her lasting hero.
Facing a row of cameras just days after the slaying, Amy Ellis remembered Bardstown Officer Jason Ellis as a dedicated family man and K-9 officer who wanted to rid this quaint town of illegal drugs.
"He is forever our hero," she said. "He always made me feel like he was Superman, that nothing would ever happen to him."
Jason Ellis, a 33-year-old former minor league baseball player turned lawman, was hit with multiple shotgun blasts after he exited his cruiser to pick up debris at a ramp off the Bluegrass Parkway in Nelson County early Saturday, according to Kentucky State Police. Investigators are asking for the public's help in finding suspects.
A reward has grown beyond $30,000, including $10,000 that Bardstown Mayor Bill Sheckles said the city is adding from money in an asset forfeiture fund.
"We want to bring these perpetrators to justice," Sheckles said.
Joined by her mother and mother-in-law plus a host of police officers, Amy Ellis said no words could express her sadness and anger. She and her husband have two sons, ages 7 and 6.
She credited her faith for giving her the strength to keep going after losing the man she fell in love with when they met on Valentine's Day a dozen years ago.
"God has picked me up off the bathroom floor," she said. "I didn't want to live another second without him."
Investigators working around the clock have received many tips and a few leads, "but nothing that we can get excited over just yet," Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin said.
"Not much sleep and a whole lot of Red Bull, that's getting us all through it," he told reporters. "And we're not going to rest for quite a while."
He said at this point, there is no suspect or motive and "nothing to go on."
Investigators are reviewing every arrest made by Ellis "with a microscope," McCubbin said.
McCubbin said he believes Ellis' death is linked to his police work.
"We believe that he was the target," he said. "It was just too methodical, too precise."
McCubbin said he was unaware of any prior threats against Ellis.
Ellis' death triggered an outpouring of grief in the town of about 12,000, about 40 miles southeast of Louisville.
Flags are at half-staff around Bardstown, and more than 300 people attended a candlelight vigil Monday night outside the police station. Gov. Steve Beshear asked that flags be lowered to half-staff statewide on Thursday, the day of Ellis' funeral.
Mourners placed flowers, flags, balloons and baseballs on a police cruiser that was turned into a makeshift memorial. Ellis was a standout baseball player at the University of the Cumberlands, and he went on to play minor league ball in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2002 to 2005, according to the school's website.
Ellis would have marked his seventh anniversary on the Bardstown police force on Thursday. He was one of the small-town department's top officers when it came to arrests, his chief said.
Ellis had made a "dent" in the town's drug problems, McCubbin said.
As a police officer, he went "by the book," his wife said. But she also remembered him as a "likable guy" who was goofy and enjoyed making people laugh. At a holiday party last year, he wore an elf sweater and elf hat, she recalled. Even when he stopped people, he brought a light touch to his police work, she said.
McCubbin said he was bracing for the possibility of a lengthy investigation.
"If it takes us six months, I want it done right because I want people in prison that did this," he said. "I want a good, solid case that puts people away for life, or the death penalty."
Ellis was in uniform and was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time of the shooting, the chief said. Ellis' canine partner wasn't with him at the time. The 7-year-old dog will be retired and probably given to Ellis' family because Ellis' young sons have grown up with the dog, Mayor Sheckles said.
McCubbin is urging his officers to be even more vigilant after the slaying, and he's insisting that they go in tandems to respond to any calls.
Jason Gossett of Bardstown was among those who stopped by the police station Tuesday to pay tribute to the fallen officer. He said the slaying sent shockwaves through the town.
"I don't think we're gripped with fear," Gossett said. "We're just upset, we're outraged and we're saddened."
Sheckles said the shooting has shaken up the community.
"We want to solve the situation because we don't want to be a community that's constantly looking over our shoulder every time that we walk out the front door," he said. "That's not what we do here in Bardstown."