Special Report: Part 1: Remembering Trooper Paul Butterfield

Any time an officer is killed in the line of duty, it sends shock waves through countless people.

That heartache is still very real for Trooper Paul Butterfield’s loved ones.

In a Special Report, Sara Simnitch and photojournalist Jeff Blevins show us how the trooper’s parents are remembering their son.

“You always think you’re bullet-proof, ’cause you’re young.”

The men and women in blue, bulletproof and brave, at least that’s how many of us see them.

They’re parked on the side of the road, or pull up behind you in what’s known as the most recognizable patrol car in the country.

“I think he just loved being a State Trooper, loved the excitement, the adventures,” Paul Sr. explains.

You’re not too happy when they give you a speeding ticket, but feel overwhelmed with gratitude when they pull your child from a burning car. Paul Butterfield Jr. knew that was his calling.

“Originally he wanted to study accounting.”

Those were Paul’s plans upon graduating from Bridgeport High School. A ‘Class A’ Cross-Country State Champion, and a wrestler.

“I remember the year before he won the State Cross Country Championship. He finished like 3rd or 4th and I remember walking off the field, he said, ‘next year I’m gonna win this’, and he did.”

That helped him earn a track and cross country scholarship at the University of Tennessee.

He was just a few credits short of graduation when he felt called to serve his country.

“He called me up and said ‘I’ve joined the Army.’ He says ‘I scored really high on my testing.’ I says ‘well what’d you pick?’ He says ‘infantry.’ I said ‘oh, wise choice,’ ya know?”

For 3 years, he was stationed in Hawaii.

“Did a stint over in Haiti. They said ‘you don’t have to go ’cause you’re in charge of the team,’ he said, ‘no, that’s my job,’ and he was dedicated like that.”

After the Army, Paul was interested in federal law enforcement, but his dad discouraged that.

A State Trooper, himself for 26 years, he knew that path would take his son far from home. He had Paul meet with a Michigan State Police recruiter.

“Paul is the kinda guy that he’s gonna figure it out on his own.”

During his time as a trooper, Paul Sr. worked everywhere from Bridgeport to Pontiac, to a promotion that would take him to the Flint Post as a desk sergeant.

“I filled him in a little bit on recruit school, because not everyone makes it through there.”

Paul Jr. started in Manistee, that Post closed, and he ended up in Hart.

He had everything, a promising career as a State Trooper, a love for the outdoors, and for wine. That’s how met Jennifer Sielski, his future wife, at a local wine shop where she worked.

“They fell in love, in fact they were gonna get married here this coming fall.”

The couple would take their dogs to Pentwater, or to the Butterfield cottage in the UP to hike and mountain bike.

They bought a beautiful home in Manistee to build their life together.

“I would say once a week anyway we were talking. In fact, my birthday was September 5th, it was four days before he was killed. And ah, he had called me on my birthday, that was really the last time I got a chance to talk to him.”

The retired State Trooper was proud of his son who chose to follow in his footsteps, and serve his community.

“We found out some things that he did when he was on the road that we never knew happened. Like stopping a lady who was suspended, took her to buy groceries, arresting a guy, but he went back and fed his pets, he never told us stuff like that.”

Paul even thought of transferring to the Saginaw Post, putting him closer to family. But, his parents thought that would be too dangerous.

The evening of September 9th, 2013, two police officers, also friends of the family, knocked on the door of the Butterfield home.

“It didn’t even register, ya know? And Steve told me, ‘Paul’s been shot,’ but that’s all we knew.”

Paul also knew his wound was to the head, but refused to think his brave son wouldn’t make it.

“Maybe it’s just a glancing blow or something like that, and then got there and found out how devastating the injury was.”

Tomorrow on 9&10 News at 6:00, in Part 2 of this Special Report, how Trooper Butterfield’s memory now lives on in Northern Michigan and nationwide.