ALTON — For Louis Robinson, Blake Snyder was a protector.
Robinson was an underclassman on the 2000 Alton Redbirds soccer team when Snyder was a senior. Both were on the back line, and the older, more experienced Snyder helped Robinson blossom as a player.
“On the practice field, not only did Blake defend Louis from bullying, he also taught him how to be strong and confident in the face of adversity,” teammate Jason Porter said, relaying his former teammate’s words from a phone conversation a few days prior. “During games, Blake’s love and protection were constant, and allowed Louis to play without fear.”
Snyder was also a role model for his young teammate.
“Blake’s example of servant leadership was so impactful that after high school, Louis chose to enlist in the Navy and would serve eight years,” Porter said. “He chose to enlist for the opportunity to impact lives the same way Blake impacted his.
“Louis left the military in 2011 and chose to begin coaching youth soccer as another way to impact lives the way Blake had impacted his own. Louis not only used what Blake taught him, but Blake’s exact words as the backbone for his coaching.”
Snyder, 33, an officer with the St. Louis County Police Department, died last Thursday after being shot while responding to a call in the early morning hours. In the days since, family, friends and community members have shared their memories of Snyder while stepping forward to help Snyder’s wife, Elizabeth, and their 2-year-old son, Malachi.
More of those stories were told Monday, when hundreds of people gathered at Alton’s Public School Stadium to hold a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the Godfrey native. Snyder was recognized by many as a man of faith who dedicated his life to bettering the lives of those around him.
“Last Thursday, just as all of you here, I was in complete shock from what transpired,” former Alton Redbirds soccer coach Greg Nasello said. “Shock has now turned to sorrow, knowing that we as a community have lost one of our best.”
Blue and white balloons specked the crowd, and on the track a blue-and-white wreath was set up next to a table holding two burning candles, a photo of Snyder and his Alton Redbirds soccer jersey. Snyder’s family and a number of police officers, both from Snyder’s county department and the Alton Police Department Honor Guard, lined the track under the stadium lights. Black mourning bands adorned badges from both departments, and the Alton Police Department lectern at which Porter and others spoke was outfitted with a black band across the front as well.
“When I was first asked to speak here tonight, I had trouble finding the right words to explain what kind of an impact Blake had on this community, and what kind of impact he had on the law enforcement community,” friend and Alton Police officer P.J. Bennett said. “By the number of community members and law enforcement personnel here tonight, I think it speaks for itself what kind of impact Blake had, and what he means to this community.”
Strong emotions marked much of the night, and a slideshow tribute to Snyder elicited silent tears from many in attendance. After the slideshow, with the stadium lights still off and the crowd lit only by candlelight, the blue and white balloons were released into the sky.
Wesley Strowmatt, a friend of more than 20 years, brought some levity to the evening when he recalled that the anger he felt on Thursday had only been matched a few times in his life and, “come to think of it, the other times I was that angry, Blake was involved,” he joked, allowing the crowd to laugh for a moment. Strowmatt closed his comments by addressing his friend, saying he knew Snyder was watching down from above.
“I know you’re up there listening to all of this, laughing at me crying,” an emotional Strowmatt said. “I should have said these three words more often, and I’m sorry I didn’t — I love you.”
Strowmatt also made note of all the good that has come to the forefront in recent days, saying Snyder’s commitment to service has manifested itself in those he touched.
“This one phrase was burning into my brain,” Strowmatt said. “He died serving others. Then time slowed down. My thoughts became clearer. As I sat at work in my office, I could hear someone saying, ‘serve others.’
“In the past four days, I have witnessed so many good things. Things I might have never seen if this tragedy didn’t happen.”
Like with Robinson, that call to service has resonated with Porter. A youth soccer coach in Alton for 11 years, Porter last year began coaching in Edwardsville, a move he now sees came with a purpose.
“I now know why God led me to Edwardsville to coach,” Porter said. “In five short years, hopefully I will be lucky enough to teach Malachi the same life lessons that Blake taught Louis.”