Those who pass the corner of West Broadway and Orange Street in downtown Missoula were asked Monday evening to remember the name of a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice serving the city as a member of the Missoula Police Department.
A plaque to be placed on the corner of the new Stockman Bank building will make that request easier, as passersby read the story of Officer Bob Heinle.
“I hope you’ll honor him by remembering the beautiful way he lived his life,” said Bob’s wife, Lisa Heinle. “After the shooting, the depth of his character became very clear. His courage, determination, tenacity and appreciation for life amazed me every day.”
Heinle joined the Missoula Police Department in 1991 and was quickly recognized as a natural leader. He mentored his fellow officers, served as a firearm’s instructor and hostage negotiator, and served on the board of domestic violence.
In late October 1998, Heinle responded to a forgery call at a nearby bank. When he arrived, the male suspect fled on foot and Heinle pursued, cornering the man in a parking lot where Stockman Bank now stands.
There, the suspect shot Heinle just above his ballistic vest. The shooting didn’t kill Heinle, though it left him a quadriplegic. And while he lived an additional 11 years, he succumbed to his injury in 2010 at the age of 47.
“It was very hard as the year’s went on,” said Lisa. “It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 20 years since our life was changed in an instant. Despite the circumstances, being the recipient of such a phenomenal outpouring of kindness, love, friendship and generosity was and continues to be a remarkable and beautiful experience for me.”
As the evening rush picked up on the streets below, nearly 100 people gathered on the top floor of the bank building to unveil a plaque dedicated in Heinle’s honor. “In Honor,” it reads, noting Feb. 12, 2010, as the officer’s “end of watch.”
“It’s the spot of tragedy that’s been with us for years,” said Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady. “Bob stood for what it is we all do. It’s something in truth no one wants to forget.”
Monday’s unveiling coincided with National Police Week, during which Sen. Jon Tester remembered another Montana officer who was killed in the line of duty, that being Broadwater County Sheriff’s Deputy Mason Moore.
Moore died in 2017 – one of 129 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty last year. Monday also marked the end of Public Service Recognition Week, a fact that wasn’t lost on Missoula Mayor John Engen.
“Last week, I had the privilege of swearing in yet another Missoula police officer, and I take tremendous comfort in the fact that those officers are dedicated to this community the way Bob Heinle was,” Engen said. “That’s the pinnacle of public service. That’s the instinct and the nature and passion and spirit we commemorate today and throughout this week.”
Bob Burns, the Missoula market president for Stockman Bank, said the plaque will be placed on the building’s facade on Tuesday.