Ray Shinholser, a Jacksonville, Fla., motorcycle cop who occasionally moonlighted in local nightclubs as a country singer, was a man acutely aware of his own mortality. Two years ago a fellow officer, Gary Bevel, was shot and killed by a drunken woman, leaving behind a 21-year-old fiancée and an infant son.
Shinholser emerged from the tragic experience with a mission. As a tribute to Bevel and other cops cut down in the line of duty, he and his friend Kimberly Rees wrote a ballad titled “Momma, When’s Daddy Coming Home?” Shinholser hoped to sell cassette copies of the song to benefit a fund for the construction of a national police memorial in Washington, D.C. He approached the project with a relentless zeal, hinting at times that he felt his own death might be imminent. “He’d often start sentences with the phrase, ‘When I’m gone…,’ ” says Rees.
Last Dec. 12 Shinholser, 30, sang and played guitar like a Nashville pro during a 14-hour recording session at a local studio. But the next evening, while Shinholser was driving his Kawasaki police motorcycle to work, a pickup truck turned abruptly in front of him. In the collision Shinholser was thrown over the truck and broke his neck. He died 17 hours later without regaining consciousness. His brother Mark, also a Jacksonville policeman, was among the family members at his side during the long hospital vigil. “On an X ray they took of Ray’s chest,” says Mark, “his badge left a shadow over his heart.”
For Debbie Shinholser, Ray’s high school sweetheart and wife of 11 years, the timing of his death was a cruel irony. In two months Shinholser was scheduled for promotion to sergeant and would have traded in his motorcycle for a patrol car. His death left her alone with their children, Mandy, 8, and Michael, 4. Shinholser had promised Michael he would add his voice to the end of “Momma, When’s Daddy Coming Home?” To keep that promise, Debbie and Rees took Michael to the studio the night after his father’s death and taped him saying, “I miss you, Daddy. I miss you.”
Two days later, when WQIK-Jacksonville disc jockey Ron Ellis played the ballad—complete with little Michael’s heartbreaking lament—the response was overwhelming. “I got 100 calls the first day, and 3,000 more have come in since,’ says Ellis, a high school friend of Shinholser’s. Radio stations around the country have aired it, and the Fraternal Order of Police in Jacksonville has sold almost 3,000 cassettes at $5 each, with the proceeds going to the police memorial and a trust fund for Shinholser’s children. Many of the 1,500 people at Shinholser’s funeral heard “Momma” played at his grave. “Michael and Ray,” Debbie says, “will always be together in that song.”