AUSTIN (KXAN) — When former Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier heard last Thursday that a deputy had been swept away in flood waters and was missing, her heart sank. The current Austin Police Monitor knows the heartache of losing one of your own.
“It’s painful, it’s absolutely gut wrenching,” Frasier said, her voice trembling. “You know, it’s been almost 15 years, but as you can tell by my voice, it’s still hard, it’s extremely difficult for the department as a whole, the sheriff’s office as a whole hurts.”
Many people in the Central Texas community remember Frasier tearfully telling the public that Deputy Keith Ruiz had been shot and killed during a raid back in February 2001. That was the last time a deputy died in the line of duty, until last Thursday, when Deputy Jessica Hollis, 35, was swept away while checking a low water crossing.
Frasier rushed to the scene last week to comfort Hollis’ fellow deputies and Sheriff Greg Hamilton, because she knew how they were feeling. The terrible irony that officers with the sheriff’s dive team were searching for their colleague, also a member of the same team, was not lost on Frasier, or anyone else.
“The reality is, they still had a task to do,” Frasier said. “I don’t want to say they were proud, but they felt it was their honor to search for her and to bring her home. But in the same way it was extremely difficult on them. But you couldn’t have kept them out of the water.”
Frasier said Chaplains and peer support officers were also on scene Friday as the search for Hollis went in to the afternoon. She said taking care of Hollis’ coworkers should be a top priority, something she learned in the aftermath of Ruiz’s murder.
“We did some things to take care of folks. I will say what I know now, almost 15 years later, is we didn’t do enough,” she said. “It was extremely hard and I think there were some lasting effects on some of the deputies who were there that night with Keith at the raid. There were some lasting effects on the folks that we expected to come in and handle the homicide and collect the evidence.”
Jessica Hollis, who had just celebrated her seventh anniversary with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, came long after Frasier had moved on, but the former sheriff has a lasting memory of the young deputy.
“As I look back on meeting her, I thought, oh, I remember that smile and that she seemed to just fit in well with the entire group,” Frasier recalled. She said Hollis will be remembered as a deputy was lost her life trying to keep the community safe.
The impact of Hollis’ death is especially far-reaching in the law enforcement community because she was married to an Austin Police Officer and also leaves behind a 12-year-old son.
“When people talk about the officer’s family, her husband, her son, I think it helps people realize that these aren’t just people in uniform, these are people who have families who care about them,” Frasier said.
Hollis is the first female deputy to die in the line of duty in the history of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.