Tragedy, persistence and hope intertwine in a scholarship endowment that honors a Fort Smith police officer killed in the line of duty.
On March 23, 2007, Officer Danny Martinez escorted a mother to pick up her child from the family of an ex-boyfriend. At the house, the child’s uncle asked the officer and mother to wait, closed the door, then returned with a 9 mm handgun and shot Martinez in the head. He shot the mother in her back, shoulder and elbow as she tried to run away. After a police chase, the brother committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. The mother survived; Martinez did not.
“It’s one of the nights you never forget but you never want to remember,” said Randy Swaim, ’96, who worked as a reserve officer with Fort Smith and responded to the scene.
In the wake of the tragedy, Swaim wanted to do something lasting to honor Martinez.
“Danny was a man of integrity. He was a family man. He was laid back, but he made sure everyone was taken care of,” Swaim said.
Doing something to help others seemed a fitting remembrance of the man, so Swaim turned to his alma mater to set up an endowed scholarship in Martinez’s name.
“Danny would want to help someone go to school,” he said of the UAFS scholarship.
For the past seven years, Swaim worked with the Martinez family, the River Valley Marine Corps League, State Rep. Stephanie Malone (R-Fort Smith), State Sen. Jake Files (R-Fort Smith), State Rep. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) and many more to raise money to fund the Officer Daniel C. Martinez Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund. From the first “poker run” in August 2007 to a concert by Chris Cameron in 2012 to many events in between and after, people in the River Valley gave to remember Martinez and to give hope to a UAFS student.
“It shows the compassion and the caring attitude of the River Valley,” Swaim said. “You know it’s coming from their hearts and they gave what they had.”
In the fall of 2014, the endowment will award its first scholarship to a full-time student who has a 3.00 GPA and a financial need. Swaim said attending the scholarship banquet and meeting the recipient will be a gift in itself.
“When we see it happen, it will be one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences in my life,” he said.
While more than $59,000 has been raised for the endowment, Swaim said he plans to continue to raise money so that eventually the scholarship can cover a students’ needs for a year.
“People can still contribute,” he said.