MONTICELLO — Monticello is a small town. The community has just around 5,000 neighbors calling it home. And in a community so small, whether you know your neighbor or not — loss is felt by all.
“Life is precious, can be gone tomorrow. Nothing's owed to us,” White County Sheriff Bill Brooks said. “We all look around, this could’ve happen to me. This identical thing could’ve happened to me and my family.”
Emotions on Friday, just some 24 hours or so after a fatal fire on North Lakeshore Drive, were raw. The community and beyond continue to mourn the loss of Stephanie Thompson and her daughter Mya Thompson.
“This is obviously an extremely tragic event, and especially when it's people that you’ve worked with, people that you know,” Brooks said.
He was one of the first on scene, receiving the call shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday morning.
“I didn’t know at the time that he [Judge Jason Thompson] was out of town that night. And I text him that if you need anything, I actually texted them both [Stephanie and Jason], not knowing. I had just been told and it was in the middle of the night,” Brooks said.
Brooks knew the family personally and first met Stephanie while on the job with Indiana State Police. White County Circuit Judge Jason Thompson was a former medic for Monticello Fire, according to Brooks.
“In this profession, I’m bumping 40 years, you start to get calloused. You know, but then this hits, and it’s hard to be callous now. You can’t do that but you’re the one that has to see this through,” Brooks said.
On Friday evening, Indiana State Police also confirmed the two lost in the fire were Indiana State Police Sergeant Stephanie Thompson and Mya. The agency shares Stephanie was a 23-year veteran of ISP.
“The Indiana State Police family, especially those who knew and worked with Stephanie, grieves today with the Thompson family and the entire Monticello community. Please be respectful of the family’s privacy during this time of unimaginable grief,” said Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter.
Brooks shared Sgt. Thompson worked in several areas of the agency during her 20+ year career. Twin Lakes School Corporation shared she was also a former volleyball coach in the district.
“She held many, many positions there from polygraph to crime scene governor’s security. [She was] well liked, well respected up here,” Brooks said.
Mya was a Junior at Twin Lakes School Corporation. Brooks said the teenager was an accomplished young woman and decorated swimmer.
“What she's accomplished, what she's getting ready to accomplish here, you know, her swimming feats, were second to none, especially for a small county, we're proud of all of them,” Brooks said.
During the summers, Mya and her sister, Ayanna, worked at Susan’s Freeman Bay. Owner Susan Wagner tells WRTV in a text exchange she first met Mya when her sister started working with her in 2019. She said she got to know Mya well this past summer.
In an Instagram tribute post, Wagner wrote in part “Our lives are less full for having lost you at a time when the world was at your fingertips.”
On Thursday, Twin Lakes School Corporation released the following statement on the tragedy.
A memorial on the fence of the high school’s tennis courts grew Friday, as did a small memorial outside of the family’s home.
On the tennis court fence, several bouquets of flowers and a green ribbon are now intertwined in Mya’s name. Hours after the community learned of the tragedy, students were outside in the rain and snow with red solo cups making the memorial.
When asked what the best way to honor the mother’s and daughter’s legacies, Brooks responded:
“It’s the respect you give them, and you honor their past because right now that's what I'm afraid what we have. Their accomplishments. We all have negatives. We make mistakes, but you try to build on their accomplishments, and that family has a lot of them. You try to remember their legacy. And you know, also especially Mya, there's a lot of students who can just build off and look what she accomplished -- just a Junior, look what that girl accomplished. And look what the judge did. He’s a young judge, Stephanie she's young and is completing 25 years, so build on their legacy, that that's an example family … That’s a staple to this community, so we just honor them. Honor everything about them.”
The two are survived by Judge Thompson and the couple’s eldest daughter and Mya’s sister, Ayanna Thompson. ISP and the Indiana Fire Marshal continue to investigate.
“We’ll get through it, but it’s going to take a long time,” Brooks said of the community healing.
A COMMUNITY COMING TOGETHER
The sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church in Monticello was quiet Friday. Outside the open doors to the pews was a table full of food and coffee
“Our town is hurting, and people are hurting,” Reverend Kelly Lindsay with First Presbyterian Church in Monticello said.
The pastor tells WRTV she’s only been in town for a year, but instantly learned how welcoming and loving the tight-knit community is. When she learned of the fire, she decided to invite anyone and everyone to come together to share in prayer.
“The Thompsons are very well known, very well loved in this community. It’s just a time of a lot of pain," Lindsay said.
Lindsay said the Thompson family has ties to the church.
“The girls were in youth group and Jason's brother-in-law, I understand, was a former youth director here,” Lindsay said.
But even in the darkest of days, neighbors are banning together. In a matter of hours, nearly $30,000 poured in through a GoFundMe account set up for the mother and daughter by a friend of Ayanna’s through travel volleyball.
“It never ceases to amaze me that when something hits, how much a community comes together, and they come together through different ways,” Brooks said.
Not far from the church, WMRS/Sunny 107.7 FM on North Main Street is serving as a drop-off point for donations from gift cards and money to clothing and essential items.
Across from the radio station, Mickey B’s screen printing and embroidery shop made a shirt in honor of the mother and daughter with all proceeds going to the family.
Over the next several days, several school districts are holding fundraisers for the family during boys’ basketball games.
On Sunday, February 20th at 6 p.m., the community is holding a candlelight vigil for Stephanie and Mya in the Twin Lakes High School Parking lot.