Mom said she was mistreated by group that claims to honor fallen
A woman whose son died when a medical helicopter recently crashed claims she feels mistreated by the founder of a group purporting to honor fallen first responders.
“He lied to me. What he told my family Easter Sunday and what he told my family (the next day) are two different things,” Hellen Hammond said. Her son, Chad Hammond, was piloting the helicopter that crashed March 26 in rural Coffee County. Three others on board also died.
She said Heisler balked when Hammond favored a church service for Chad in his hometown of Eufaula. “He said no, we’re coming to Eufaula and we’re going to get the biggest building, Governor (Robert) Bentley is going to be there, they’re bringing in people from Europe and all over for this service,” Hammond claims.
She said the family stuck with their plan for a church service Friday, April 1 on the promise from authorities that Chad’s remains would be returned the prior Tuesday. However, Hammond claims that Heisler’s top assistant told her it could take up to a year for the body to be returned from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences. Hammond considered that retaliation because she refused Honor Network’s request to arrange Chad’s funeral.
Hammond claims she was upset greatly when aide, Cindy Cohn, told her “Lady, don’t you know (your son) is in pieces?”—a reference to the remains’ condition.
However, Heisler portrays events much differently. He said Honor Network only wanted to pay tribute to Chad as it has many first responders. “It is our desire to honor them. I pay many expenses out of my own pocket.”
In fact, Heisler claims that he never spoke with the Hammond family. As documentation, he provided a series of text messages between he and Hellen Hammond. The first was dated Sunday, March 27 at 10:12 a.m., the day after the wreckage and four bodies were discovered about 15 miles west of Enterprise.
In that text, Heisler identifies himself and shares contact information but doesn’t divulge any additional information. He doesn’t mention arrangements in the correspondence.
The next message was sent from Hammond to Heisler thanking him for the offer but declining. It’s unclear how she would have known what Heisler wanted if there was no additional communication between them.
The day before Chad’s funeral, Heisler orchestrated a memorial service for the three crew members who died aboard the Haynes air ambulance, including Chad. Held at Troy University’s Sartain Hall, it drew hundreds including fellow first responders. The fourth person killed was a patient and, therefore, not part of the tribute.
Hammond and Chad’s wife attended but Hammond said she didn’t know it was Heisler speaking at the service. Had she known, Hammond said, she would have “gotten up and walked out.”
However, not all agree with her perception of Honor Network. Haynes Ambulance Chief Operating Officer Kirk Barrett said that he is grateful for Heisler’s effort in the air disaster’s aftermath. Heisler and Barrett were in central Alabama Friday to attend the funeral of another crew member.
While many have lauded his efforts, this is not the first controversy to surround Heisler, according to published reports.
Following the murders of Kaufman County, Texas District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, in 2013, family members told Heisler “Your services are no longer needed.”
They claim Heisler became increasingly involved, speaking on behalf of the family, criticizing law enforcement, and attempting to raise reward money, according to an April 9, 2013 story that aired on KTVT, the CBS affiliate in Dallas, and appeared on its website, CBSDFW.com.
There have also been questions about Heisler’s U.S. Honor Flag — which he claims journeyed across the nation, to Iraq, into space and back again —and has been Heisler’s ticket into several high-profile news stories, reported the Dallas Morning News two days after the KTVT story aired.
His claims that his U.S. flag first flew over the Texas Capitol on Sept. 11, 2001, doesn’t appear to add up, in large part, because the flag is too small, state officials told the newspaper.
He claims the flag was given to him by the state, delivered in a Fed-Ex box. However, Texas Department of Public safety spokesman Ken Scheer told the Morning News that Heisler’s flag is 4-feet-by-6-feet. The state Capitol’s American flag is twice the size.
Heisler routinely offers the flag’s services after untimely deaths of first responders, members of law enforcement and others.
Criticism of Heisler seems to be in only a small number of situations. A search of news stories shows many accounts of Heisler and his flag weaving across the nation where he orchestrated tributes to fallen heroes.
Heisler claims been to more than 1,000 (corrects earlier number) funerals for soldiers, firefighters, police officers, and other responders. In fact, earlier this year he took the Honor Flag to Nebraska after a police K-9 was shot and killed.
As for Hammond, she never wants to speak to Heisler again calling him a “disgusting” person.
Heisler said he regrets any misunderstanding in the death of Chad Hammond. “I was just trying to help and I’m sorry Mrs. Hammond feels like she does.”
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