Wilking loses disease battle

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2001


PHOTO: STEPHANIE WILKING enjoys a happy moment in front of the U.S. Capitol during a 1999 trip to Washington, D.C. to honor police officers who died in the line of duty. LAPLACE – When St. John the Baptist Parish Deputy Barton Granier died in the line of duty on Jan. 27, 1996, it was a life-changing event for Stephanie Wilking, a 12-year-old LaPlace school girl. Stephanie saw the need and almost single-handedly launched “Kids for Kops,” which raised funds to give every deputy a bulletproof vest. Stephanie never met Barton Granier in life, but she joined him Tuesday, dying from a sudden attack of meningococcal disease, according to the autopsy report. Services are today at 10 a.m. at Reserve Christian Church, with a police honor guard and escort to interment at St. John Memorial Gardens. According to her mother, Paula Wilking, Stephanie made her cause her life’s work, not only to protect the lives of society’s guardians but also to improve relations between law enforcement and the public, especially children. “She was just always helping people,” her mother said. Lt. Michael Tregre of the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office observed, “This was a person who was living life to the fullest, like we all want to do.” The last day for 17-year-old “Nikki” with her mother was sweet, as she helped her mother clean the yard and went to work at Baskin-Robbins. “We had such a good day,” her mother recalled. Later that evening she got permission to visit her boyfriend, Dustin Young, 19, to watch a video they had rented. She promised to clean her room when she returned home later in the evening. However, she began feeling badly and asked to be brought home early. She arrived home crying and in pain, saying she thought she had a stomach virus. Paula Wilking put her daughter to bed and checked on her throughout the night, battling Stephanie’s 103.8-degree fever. Tuesday morning she rushed Stephanie to River Parishes Hospital and doctors launched a five-hour battle to save her life. “They did everything; they never stopped,” her mother remembered. However, at 4 p.m. Tuesday, the battle ended. Young also reported to the hospital exhibiting some symptoms, according to hospital spokesman Sean Roussel, but an infusion of antibiotics helped prevent any worsening. He has been released in good condition. Lt. Mike Hoover, who was Stephanie’s DARE officer, remembered that after Granier’s death she had gone to her mother saying she didn’t want any more children of police officers to lose their parent, and she wanted to help. “She had that internal drive,” Hoover commented. “It’s not very often you hear about an adult who looks up to a child, but she is one of my heroes.” The Kids for Kops program successfully raised thousands of dollars to provide every road deputy and detective with bulletproof vests. It was already starting a second round to provide replacement vests, as they only have a five-year useable life. The most special thing about her, Hoover said, was, “she always asked what she could for everybody else.” He said the Discovery Channel, planning a special on bulletproof vests, plans to include Kids for Kops as part of the story. Stephanie’s death makes that even more important, Hoover said, as it hopefully will inspire people of all ages to get involved. Brenda Badeaux, sister of Barton Granier, added, “You didn’t tell her she couldn’t do anything; she’d go ahead and do it. It goes to show you what one kid can do.” In May 1999, Badeaux accompanied Stephanie to Washington, D.C., to visit the Law Enforcement Memorial Wall, on which Barton Granier’s name is inscribed. “It’s so hard to believe,” Badeaux said. “She had everything to live for.” Sheriff Wayne L. Jones called Stephanie’s death “a true tragedy,” and added, “She was so sincerely involved, and all she wanted to do was help.” Jones said it surprised him that a girl of her tender years would be so focused on her goal, and added, “Wherever life was going to take her, she was going to be a leader and make a difference.” More than anything, Paula Wilking said, Stephanie “wanted kids and cops to come together, know that police are there to help.”Wilking, her siblings, Jason, Ashley and Kyle, and her grandparents. The Wilking home this week became a succession of deputies, many of whom carry Stephanie’s photograph in their police unit. Hoover stated simply of Stephanie Wilking, “Her heart was pure.” An honor guard stood at her wake Friday evening at Millet-Guidry Funeral Home and will stand today at her funeral at Reserve Christian Church. Stephanie is survived by her parents, Kevin and Paula Wilking, her siblings, Jason, Ashley and Kyle, and her grandparents. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Kids for Kops at Louisiana Federal Credit Union in LaPlace. The funds will help continue Stephanie’s work.