ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Outside an unassuming house in St. Augustine Beach, just blocks away from the ocean, a thin blue line flag hangs high in the wind. Inside, a team of determined, compassionate supporters and critical incident trained therapists stand ready to help.
All of this is in memory of Officer Floyd East, a dedicated public servant and family man, who was shot and killed by a student while working at Texas Tech University in 2017. Due to his love of the water, his family buried him at sea roughly 15 miles off the coast of St. Augustine in 2018. Officer East’s widow, Carmen, remembers him as a funny, delightful soul who loved working at the university.
“He would light up a room when he would walk in,” East said. “It wouldn’t take more than two seconds and we’d all start laughing because he would say something.”
Following her husband’s death, Carmen East founded the nonprofit, TexaS635, which pays tribute to her husband’s badge number. The group provides funds and support to officers coping through trauma. She uses the St. Augustine Beach house as a space for officers from all over the United States to gather for special mental wellness retreats. They meet with counselors in a serene setting surrounded by nature, where they are taught the necessary skills to lower their stress levels. This is all in hopes of beginning the healing process.
Now through this weekend, East and her team of counselors are hosting a group of female officers. Just like they did for a group of male officers in October 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Among that group was Corporal Tyler Snelson, East’s partner at the time of his death. His mother, Kathy, says after the tragedy, her son began drinking. Despite her pleas for him to get help, he was stubborn.
“He kept telling us that he would be okay,” Snelson said. “At a lot of points, we thought we would lose our son to suicide because he felt so guilty over the death of Officer Floyd East.”
Eventually, Corporal Snelson agreed to go on the retreat. Kathy Snelson says she saw a change in her son almost immediately. That’s a change East hopes to bring to many more hurting hearts.
“From just with a domestic dispute to terrible and tragic events that they see every single day, it weighs on them,” East said. “They also suffer from PTSD and it’s hard for them to communicate that to their stations and fellow officers.
East also says for many, it’s harder with the current anti-police rhetoric seen in communities throughout the U.S.
“It is a service that is needed in every community in the United States, " East Said. “Yes, there are a few bad apples, but these officers, they have families, they are human. They carry a lot.”
East remembers her husband as someone who had a way of reassuring people, particularly the students who attended Texas Tech University. What’s more, he always shared a message that things would be okay.
“Is that a message he’d probably want to send to these same officers coming this weekend?,” News4Jax reporter Ashley Harding asked.
“Oh yes, yes, definitely,” East said. “I know he’s up there high-fiving. Well, he is just 15 miles straight out.”
Snelson’s wish is simple. If you’re an officer who is hurting, please don’t hesitate to reach out.”
“You don’t have to be tough, you don’t have to be,” Snelson said. “Don’t hold it in. Your family loves you and they don’t want to lose you.”
Honoring a great man, and helping others heal for a lifetime.
The next retreat is happening in October, and it’s for men. The retreats cost $2500 per officer, but it’s all paid for through the foundation. People can help with sponsoring an officer by going to the website. To do that, click here: https://texas635.com/