DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. – Gracie Parrish is a pillar of strength when talking about her husband, Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Zack Parrish, who died in the line of duty December 31, 2017.
That night, the Parrish family was having a pizza. Zack was playing with 4 and-a-half-year-old Caroline and helping nearly 2-year-old Evy sort shapes.
“We did our normal routine of dinner as a family, bath time and cuddling before bed and he tucked the girls into bed and said, 'Good night, I'll see you in the morning.' I watched him put on his uniform and talked to him," Gracie said.
She goes on to describe watching him get ready for the graveyard shift.
“He went down to the basement where we had all his gear, and he came upstairs and gave me a kiss and said, 'I'll see you in the morning.' And so I watched him walk out the garage door, and I sat there at the garage door like I always did and he'd get in the patrol car, and he'd always flash his lights at me. He flashed his lights, and I watched him drive off. And that was the last memory.”
That memory will forever stay with Gracie, who said she and Zack talked all the time about the job of being in law enforcement, adding she was never concerned for his safety.
“I have this deep peace and this trust that Zack’s life is in God’s hands, that his death can in no way be changed by man or by him getting in a car five minutes later. Our days are numbered, our time to go is ordained,” Gracie said.
Still, she feels the grief and sadness that was felt so profoundly right here in our Colorado community.
We heard the calls of a team sent to a barricaded man, the burst of gunfire and the call of a deputy down. That deputy was Zack Parrish, who until the end, was pleading with the shooter saying, 'let me help you, let me talk to you.' Zack Parrish was shot 11 times. Four other officers were injured.
Even now, Gracie says, had Zack known someone on his team was going to die that night, “Zack would have said, 'I'm still going in there, I will put my life on the line.'”
“I woke up to a pounding door on the 31st and was told that Zack had been in a really bad call and that multiple officers were shot including civilians and that Zack had been shot and they needed me to come with them to the hospital.”
That was how the woman Zack called "Gracie Lou" found out her husband was gone. That's when a brother and sisterhood in uniform knew to line their cars in a procession along the streets. And that's when Coloradans knew to stand on street corners and wave their flags.
On January 5, the day of Zack’s funeral, we came to know Gracie Parrish when she stepped up to the podium, wearing his badge around her neck and reading her final love letter to Zack, calling him “her once in a lifetime” and promising him she'd raise their girls Caroline and Evy in a home where the Lord is their focus and in a home that bleeds blue.
“I promise to teach the girls how to kick a soccer ball, have a love for music and the outdoors. I promise not to teach them to drive when they turn 16 and instead get your brothers in blue to do the job,” Gracie said at the time.
Four months later, she looks back on that moment at his funeral and the letter.
“I never thought that I would be at my husband's funeral with two sweet baby girls that would never truly get to know their father. I wasn't even able to hit a decade of marriage with him, so the only way I could think of was through writing a letter to him of just basically my vows, as to what I would promise to him, how I would raise the girls, and how I would be able to honor his legacy and teach the girls about who their father was, and about our love for law enforcement and our respect for everyone.”
Gracie said she and the girls have come to count on the law enforcement community.
“They ‘ve truly stepped up in ways I always knew they would. There’s this blue brotherhood that once you’re sworn into this position, you join that blue brotherhood and so I knew that they were there but they’ve truly stepped up in incredible ways in taking care of me and the girls, and they’ll forever be a part of my family," she said.
As for the girls, Gracie says they are taking care of themselves - and she works to be a strong mom for them.
“I don’t have the ability to just fall apart and lose it. They need a strong mom. They need a mom who's going to show them how to grieve well and also how to find joy in the dark points because my little girls need joy and they need people to have those really happy times. So we're doing as well as we can be overall, I think.”
Above all, she wants the world to remember Zack as a man who found his passion and purpose.
“I would want people to remember that he was so dedicated, that he loved so well. And that he truly — he loved his family. He loved his friends. He loved his job. He loved it. He was made to be a police officer. Would I support him in going in to be a police officer again? Yes. Hands down, yes.”
And I truly I believe his regret would have been that he was not able to call me and tell me that he loved me before going in and risking his life.”