CHESTERFIELD — A national nonprofit is building homes for two St. Louis area police officers who were catastrophically injured in the line of duty.
The Gary Sinise Foundation announced Wednesday afternoon that former Rock Hill Officer Mathew Crosby and former Arnold Officer Ryan O’Connor would be provided homes specially adapted to their needs.
The nonprofit was founded by actor Gary Sinise after his role as disabled Vietnam War veteran Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 hit movie “Forrest Gump.” He said the 9/11 terrorist attacks inspired him to do more for veterans, and the announcement about the homes for the injured officers was purposely timed to take place on the anniversary.
The nonprofit has outfitted dozens of injured military veterans with smart homes, which include technology such as lighting that can be controlled throughout the home with one switch.
Flamion attended the ceremony Wednesday along with about 200 people at Metro Air Support headquarters announcing that the foundation was going to build similar homes for Crosby and O’Connor. They will be the eighth and ninth homes the group has built in the St. Louis area for injured veterans and police officers.
O’Connor and Crosby also attended Wednesday’s announcement. Flamion looked at them and said it was the day before his 36th birthday.
“I can’t think of any better birthday gift than to know my two brothers are going to be taken care of,” Flamion said.
Flamion has been living in his Ballwin home since November 2017.
“It makes it easier for her,” Flamion said of his wife, Sarah. “She doesn’t have to be with me constantly. I can open doors, change the channels on the TV, it gives me independence, but it gives her independence, too.”
Crosby said the project has stalled because it needs a lot of donated time, labor and materials.
“The lumber alone, it’s a lot to ask,” Crosby said. “I’m just so grateful. People have already donated so much.”
His current home has three bedrooms, but he can’t fit his wheelchair into his closet or through his back door to get in his backyard. He can’t park his handicapped accessible truck in his garage.
Crosby said he applied to the Sinise Foundation’s Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment division earlier this month, and was thrilled to learn he had been approved. He said members of the team that have been working to build his home have yet to meet with the Sinise team, but assumed that they would all work together and combine the resources and donations that have already poured in.
“This time I feel like it’s OK to be excited,” Crosby said.
O’Connor’s home will be built in Wildwood. He was was shot in the back of the head by a handcuffed prisoner he was driving to the Arnold police station in December 2017. He was 44 then, and has four children: Aidan Ganswer, 18, Ciarian, 13, Quinn, 8, and Cullen, 6. He has since been recovering from the traumatic brain injury, slowly regaining the ability to walk, talk and function as independently as possible.
His wife, Barbara, said the home will give her husband back some of his dignity. She gave the microphone to her husband, who was in a wheelchair, during Wednesday’s announcement. He cried several times before she whispered the words he was looking for in his his ear.
“I, am, one, grateful, American,” he said.
And the crowd rose to its feet for its third standing ovation of the afternoon.
The Sinise Foundation homes typically cost between $500,000 to $1.4 million to build, according to Jim Shubert, a foundation board member and owner of Shubert Design Furniture in Manchester.
Construction normally takes anywhere from eight to 12 months.
Donations can be made at GarySiniseFoundation.org/Donate or by check, which should be made payable to “Gary Sinise Foundation” with a note or memo citing Crosby or O’Connor as the donation recipient, and sent to Gary Sinise Foundation, P.O. Box 50008 Studio City, Calif. 91614.