Henry Schaad: Symbol for York City Police, cherished by family

"He died doing what he loved, and that was protecting and serving. ... I cannot imagine ... being young and having a young family and knowing what was on the line to protect a community."

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Sharon Schaad stood on the steps of the York County Courthouse in March 2003, minutes after jurors convicted two men of her father’s cold-case murder, and expressed relief that she could now concentrate on “keeping my daddy’s memory and love alive in our hearts forever.”

York City Police Officer Henry Schaad was mortally wounded when a bullet ripped through his shoulder July 18, 1969, as a mob of black city residents fired on the supposedly armored vehicle he and other officers were riding in. The officers were en route to a riot-related shooting but instead rushed their wounded brother to York Hospital, where he died two weeks later.

He was 22 years old and had been on the job for about nine months. His daughter — and only child — hadn’t yet turned 6.

For the next 30 years, his murder remained unsolved, and the community’s memory of Officer Schaad became inexorably linked with what is arguably York City’s darkest time — a cautionary symbol of how rage and fear can drive neighbors to commit violent acts against each other.

It’s been Sharon Schaad, her uncle Barry Schaad and other family members who held tight to their memories of the flesh-and-blood man they love and still deeply miss. It’s been 50 years since Henry Schaad scooped up his daughter in his arms, or enjoyed a hot fudge sundae with his brother, or made his mother, Carrie Schaad, smile.

As a York High student, Henry Schaad was an athlete, his brother said. He played basketball, softball and baseball right up to his senior year, when he and high-school sweetheart Sonja Middleton, later Sonja Schaad, learned she was pregnant with Sharon.

He found a job at the camera store in the first block of North Beaver Street, now called the Camera Center of York, his brother said.

"Henry loved photography. That’s why he worked there," Barry Schaad recalled. "He loved the business and wanted to buy it. But back then, banks were a lot tighter."

Unable to secure financing, Henry Schaad gave up on his dream of turning photography into a career that would support his family. After learning someone else was buying the business and he would be out of a job, he and his wife had serious conversations about the future.

"(They) talked about him going into the Marine Corps at the time, but then Vietnam was going on," Sharon Schaad said. "So ... with me (as a consideration), they thought it would be safer for him to be a police officer."

His father, Russell Schaad, at that time was a York City Police detective, so there was a path for the young father to follow. Russell Schaad retired after his son’s murder and in the mid-1970s opened Schaad Detective Agency, which is still in business today. He died never knowing if his son’s killers would be brought to justice.

Gentle man, loving dad: Barry Schaad said his brother favored their father — a big, pale, soft-spoken man without a mean bone in his body.

'It was hard to irritate him. … If people knew who was in that (armored truck) … they wouldn’t have shot at that truck," Barry Schaad said. "I’ve said it a thousand times. Why? Why? … You shot a guy who did no harm to you. The guy didn’t have enough time on the police force to do harm to anybody."

While training to be an officer, Henry Schaad attended police academy in Philadelphia on weekdays and returned home Friday afternoons, his daughter recalled.

Sharon Schaad, now 55, said she and her mother eagerly awaited those Friday reunions. She would run over to her father and climb up his leg like a monkey to welcome him home.

"He would swing me around, put me on his shoulders and parade me around the house," she said. "And my grandmother would say, 'Duck, Henry, duck!'"

Like many families in those days, Henry, Sonja and Sharon lived with Russell and Carrie Schaad until Sharon was 4, then moved into a York City home just a block away.

"We were very close as a family unit," Sharon Schaad said. "For the times, he was very involved in my care-taking."

Henry Schaad, because he worked a swing shift, was able to walk his daughter to kindergarten at Ferguson Elementary School in the mornings.

On one of those mornings, after a young Sharon complained about being forced to drink milk in school despite her protests, Henry Schaad walked into the school and laid down the law.

"He’s in full uniform on his way to work," Sharon Schaad said. "(He) tells them, 'You can make her take it, but don’t you make her drink it.'"

It was out of character for Henry Schaad to be stern, his loved ones say. He was gentle and easygoing and loved spending time with family and children.

Sharon Schaad said she recalls being corrected at the dinner table by her father during a holiday meal, perhaps Thanksgiving, because she was fidgeting.

"(He said), 'Young lady, if you don’t stop it, your mom is going to punish you,'" she said, smiling at the memory. "It was never Dad — Mother was going to punish you. He was so gentle. He wouldn’t even touch me because he was so big and I was so little."

Barry Schaad finds comfort in memories, including sharing sundaes with his brother, who loved ice cream.

"I used to come into town sometimes when he would walk the beat," he said. "We would go up to the square, to the Peoples Drug Store at the Colonial Hotel. We always got our junior sundaes."

Henry Schaad always had the same kind, his brother said — hot fudge. The big man always ordered a junior sundae, as did his brother, conscious of the fact that Barry had to watch his sugar intake.

'That's all we ever wanted — come clean': Both Sharon and Barry Schaad said the second-degree murder convictions of shooters Stephen D. Freeland and Leon "Smickel" Wright and the guilty plea of Wright's brother, Michael "Picklenose" Wright, allowed the family to move forward.

They don't forget, they said, and Barry Schaad said he doesn't forgive, although he did accept Michael Wright's in-court apology in March 2003.

Michael Wright, who made a surprise confession on the witness stand at trial and implicated his co-defendants, was given a time-served sentence of about three months. He was murdered in his Baltimore home in 2005.

Freeland, who fired the fatal shot, was sentenced to nine to 19 years in prison, and Leon Wright was sentenced to 4½ to 10 years. They died in prison in 2005.

"It wasn't the outcome maybe we desired, but we had our day in court, and justice was served," Sharon Schaad said of the sentences. "That's all we ever wanted — come clean. Tell the truth."

The deaths of all three men so soon after their convictions helped her cope better, she said.

"I think a higher power intervened with the sentencing," she said. "It gave me some resolution ... just the ability to move on."

Barry Schaad said even 50 years later, some people in the community still believe outlandish things about the riots. At a recent York College discussion about them, a woman in the audience said she'd heard Henry Schaad killed himself in that armored vehicle, he said.

"The purpose of us (submitting to interviews) is just to keep the story truthful and let the story be known," he said. "So we don't have people standing up and saying he shot himself."

Every anniversary, every news story about her father's death, rekindles the emotions the Schaad family has carried for 50 years, Sharon Schaad said. Sometimes she'd be in a store or restaurant and hear people murmuring about the case, criticizing the fact that the investigation was reopened.

"It was just hurtful because we felt we deserved justice for my dad, and as a family," she said.

Also painful, she said, was a letter to the editor printed in The York Dispatch in 2001 — and signed by dozens of York's leading citizens, including elected officials and pastors — citing "grave concern" and urging the newspaper to stop reporting on the unsolved race-riots murders of Henry Schaad and Lillie Belle Allen.

"To think that our community would not be supportive and understanding," Sharon Schaad said. "Again, putting yourself in our shoes: How would they have felt if it was their loved one?"

A family's burden: Henry Schaad's unsolved murder wore at his father and caused his mother to withdraw more and more over the years, the family said.

Russell Schaad, whom Sharon called Pappy, "tried not to leave any stone unturned," she said, but her uncle noted that his detective father was restricted by the police department in how much investigation he could do into the case.

"I was constantly asking him, 'What's happening? ... How about this guy?'" Barry Schaad said. "He was really frustrated. I think he was a little bit protective of me."

That fatherly protectiveness led Russell Schaad to tell his surviving son what were, at most, partial truths.

"(He said) one was killed in a robbery, one died of drugs. I thought, 'Oh, OK, they're all dead,'" Barry Schaad said, so when he learned of the arrests, "I was about in shock. ... When it broke loose, I said, 'Wow. I think my dad lied to me to protect me.' I think he just didn't want me to be too inquisitive and try to do something on my own.

"One of my biggest regrets is my father never lived long enough to see (justice)," he said.

Carrie Schaad was left devastated.

"She took it so hard. She was a recluse that whole 30 years," her son said.

"I'm not sure until the very end if she ever moved on," Sharon Schaad agreed.

The grieving mother always said she hoped to live long enough to see her son's murderers punished, and she did, although it was at the end of her life.

"She knew that they were caught, and that gave her peace," Barry Schaad said. "Then she started to open up a little bit. ... It brought her out of the shell. Because (before that), I couldn't get her to do anything."

'An everlasting lesson': Sharon Schaad said she thinks about how young her father was, and how frightened he must have been, but put his city and neighbors above himself and his family despite his fears.

"He died doing what he loved, and that was protecting and serving," she said. "Could I do it? I don't think so. I cannot imagine ... being young and having a young family and knowing what was on the line to protect a community."

Both said they remain so proud of Henry Schaad — the man and the police officer.

"I was always proud of him because he left an everlasting symbol on the police department, because his pictures are right inside the lobby," Barry Schaad said. "It's a constant reminder that when you go into work today, you better pray and hope you can go home. And it's an everlasting lesson to the police (officers), and I hope they absorb it. Because you don't want it to happen to another one.

"Not the way he went."

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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