Police line sidewalk to welcome fallen officer's son on 1st day of school
Riley Cottongim, 5, was greeted on his way into school Tuesday by around two dozen police officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department, where his father, Officer Zach Cottongim, served.
"I could just feel Zach. I could feel him standing there with them," Cottongim's widow, Jamie Cottongim, told " Good Morning America." "I just felt so close with him in that moment and to see Riley smiling and high-fiving all of them, it was amazing."
Zach Cottongim was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 18, 2021, when he was struck by a passing vehicle as he inspected a wrecked vehicle on the side of the road, according to the police department's website.
In addition to his wife and Riley, Zach Cottongim, who was just 29 at the time of his death, is also survived by a second son, Alexander, who is now 2.
Jamie Cottongim, who works as a civilian in the LMPD's records department, said the officers' presence at the elementary school was a shock for both her and Riley.
"He had an amazing day. He told me it was the best day ever," she said of Riley. "His teacher also told me that by the time he got to class he had the biggest smile on his face."
Jamie Cottongim said that her late husband had been "so excited" for their eldest son to start elementary school, saying it was something he talked about often.
With that in mind, a group of officers' wives rallied to make sure a police presence was there in Zach Cottongim's absence, according to Officer Donna Morgan, who was his partner on the police force for over two years.
"We as a squad just literally were there to bring that idea to fruition," Morgan told "GMA," adding that Zach Cottongim was known in the police force for being "the glue" that held everyone together.
"The friendships and camaraderie amongst the squad were extremely important to Zach, and so it's been important to us as a squad to be present for special moments in order to carry on his legacy," Morgan said. "We really want to ensure his sons always know how much he loved them, and that if he were here, he would be the one that was present for these moments."
Jamie Cottongim described the police as "family" to her and her sons, and said Morgan was like a sister to her late husband.
Zach Cottongim was a member of the Louisville Metro Police Department for his entire career, serving just over seven years before his death.
"He was extremely passionate about it and he was just such a light and just wanted to help everyone," Jamie Cottongim said. "He was the true definition of what it is to put that badge on and to serve others."