An Indianapolis Metro Police Department officer has maintained a memorial for 22 years, making sure its message is not forgotten.
The memorial — a small white cross dedicated to Shelby Smith — has been at the corner of Lynhurst Drive and Rockeville Road for over two decades, weathering the elements.
Officer Jeff Stagg noticed it was beginning to get worn down and decided to fix it up and protect the area.
“Over the years, I just noticed that it was starting to get worn,” Stagg told IndyStar. “The trash would build up out here, so I started picking up trash to keep the area clean.”
“I just didn’t want to see that memorial deteriorate and be forgotten like so many of them are. I didn’t want Shelby to be forgotten,” he continued.
Shelby Smith was killed by a drunk driver at the intersection in 1999. She was 18 years old.
According to IndyStar, Stagg had been a patrol officer in the southwestern district for 12 years at the time of the accident. Days after, he saw a few of Shelby’s friends build the memorial, and he has been watching over it on his patrol ever since.
“I go by it several times a shift,” he said of the memorial, “and I just try to keep an eye on it.”
The veteran officer recently rebuilt the memorial with Officer Mike Woida. The new cross is thicker and sturdier, with Shelby’s name written across it in pink. The officers also put new flowers next to the cross along with many of the original ornaments.
Shelby Smith’s mother, Sherri, met Stagg to see the new memorial.
“It’s been 22 years, and she’s still being remembered,” Smith said, hugging Stagg. “It swells my heart.”
“Sherri, this is for you. You and Shelby,” Stagg said after escorting her to the memorial so the mother could place a photo of her daughter with two white flowers.
It was the first meeting between the two.
Stagg’s upkeeping work may have gone unnoticed if not for a viral TikTok video posted in August that received 40,000 likes.
Kaleb Hall stopped to record video of Stagg picking up trash around the area and asked him what he was doing.
“I didn’t know her,” Stagg told Hall. “But I remember the incident. Nobody is keeping up the memorial anymore. I just want to make sure it stays kept up.”
“I just want to tell you I noticed you, and I appreciate you,” Hall replied.
One of Shelby’s friends often passes by the memorial, beeping her horn twice as she does so.
Tara Kay went to Avon High School with Shelby and has stayed in touch with her friend’s mother. Kay reflected on having sleepovers and making prank calls with Shelby.
“It’s very emotional and [I’m] just grateful to know that there’s somebody that’s taking care of it,” Kay said after visiting the memorial. “She was an awesome friend and an awesome person just to hang around with.”