Special Report: Part 2: Remembering Trooper Paul Butterfield

Eight months later, Trooper Paul Butterfield’s parents say their emotional wounds are far from being healed.

But, his memory lives on.

Among thousands, Paul’s name is now forever etched on the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial, in Washington D.C.

Trooper Butterfield died last September when Eric Knysz shot him in the head during a traffic stop in Mason County.

Knysz was arrested, along with his wife, Sarah, after a shootout with police.

And Eric’s mother, Tammi Spofford, is also serving time for helping the pair get away after the trooper’s murder.

In Part 2 of this Special Report, Sara Simnitch and photojournalist Jeff Blevins show us how Northern Michigan and the nation are remembering the fallen trooper.

“All we kept hearing was that he’s holding his own, he’s holding his own.”

That’s what Paul Butterfield Sr. hears as police give him a ride to the hospital in Traverse City from downstate; the longest drive of his life.

It’s the night of September 9th, 2013.

He and Paul Jr.’s step-mom, Pat, had just learned their son was shot. The son they describe as humble, giving, and passionate about being a State Trooper.

“They were performing CPR, life-saving methods, and I said if that’s what’s keeping him alive, let him go,” said Paul Sr. “I just told him I loved him, just touching him, and I don’t know if he ever heard me or not, but there’s nothing else I could do. I just said I love you, and said goodbye.”

Pat said, “One of the things that Paul did after he stopped this vehicle was that he called in the license plate number and description, and because he did that, I mean he actually solved his own murder.”

“He was caught flat-footed, he didn’t have a clue, just another traffic stop. That’s what you’re out there for.”

Police arrested Eric Knysz.

Officers traveled from all over the country to remember Paul, a tribute fit for a hero.

And, who could forget this emotional image, a typically strong, fearless, fellow trooper so overcome with grief, he falls to his knees in front of Paul’s casket.

An issue of Michigan Trooper Magazine was dedicated to Paul. It has pages of photos and memories.

One entry from a MSP Captain who recalls Paul saying while in recruit school, “I’d be willing to give my life for this, and I’d consider that an honor.”

“The outpouring from the community, when we were leaving the funeral home, and the people were standing alongside the road with signs and stuff, it was just, it was really something,” Paul Sr. said.

It wasn’t until the trial of Eric Knysz that Pat and Paul Sr. learned their son was not alone here that night.

These caring people stayed with him after they saw him lying in the road.

And, later took the stand at the trial. And, while he listened to details about the night of his only child’s murder, Paul Sr. was battling leukemia.

“Cause I’m sick, I can’t drive as much as I’d like to, they’d have a Trooper take us over for the sentencing, the trial.”

The jury convicted Eric Knysz of first degree murder, sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Justice has been served in the standpoint that he got the max he could possibly get. It’s never gonna do anything to bring back Paul.”

Paul says the entrance to Jackson State Prison was lined with State Police patrol cars the day Knysz arrived, the last thing the convicted killer would see other than those four walls for the next 50-some years.

But that grief, loss, and inability to forgive Knysz, never goes away.

“I was so offended by his statement at the trial, he said he didn’t mean to shoot Paul. C’mon! He’s got a 357 stolen Magnum handgun, he shoots him at point-blank range in the head, and he says he didn’t mean to shoot him?! What kind of statement is that? How stupid does he think we are?”

On April 14th, Eric Knysz took his own life in prison.

Since Paul’s death the Butterfield’s say they’ve paid-off Paul and Jennifer’s Manistee home.

“I think she’s gonna be all set, and I think that’s what Paul would’ve wanted as much as anything is to make sure Jennifer’s taken care of.”

The road where Paul was killed now serves as a memorial to the fallen Trooper.

“Every night I go to bed, before I go to sleep, that’s all I think about is Paul,” said Paul Sr.

“You keep thinking you’re gonna see him come in the door or something,” said Pat.

A scholarship in Paul’s name is in the works.

Paul Sr. explains, “we intend it to be something that’s ongoing, not just a one-time deal. Just something that will always bring Paul’s name up, somewhere.”

And, a scenic stretch of  a Northern Michigan roadway will soon bare his name.

“He loved coming up to our cottage, we’re gonna miss him up there.”

Miss him there, and everywhere the hurt and pain for this family is still very much alive.

“I don’t know if I’m moving on, I’m sure it’ll probably get better, but it hasn’t been easy.”

Final dispatch call audio: attention all Oceana County units, the following is a special broadcast. It is with deep regret and sorrow we announce that Trooper Paul Butterfield answered his last call on September 9th, 2013 at 1820 hours, and has returned home safely where he awaits his next assignment. We thank you for your service to our community, and we’ll never forget your honor, courage, and duty. Central clear 1301.