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News / Clark County News

Officers bearing Christmas gifts surprise Vancouver family hit by tragedy

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
Published: December 23, 2017, 9:17pm
5 Photos
Ian Harder celebrates an early Christmas gift Saturday after Vancouver police surprised the family of Peter Harder, who died in November.
Ian Harder celebrates an early Christmas gift Saturday after Vancouver police surprised the family of Peter Harder, who died in November. (Steve Dipaola for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

Police personnel made a return visit to an east Vancouver home Saturday, and this time it was all about joy.

Officers from Vancouver’s East Precinct made a surprise Christmas delivery to the home of Nicole Cole and her family, where they’d responded last month to a tragedy.

“God bless you all!” Cole exclaimed after a parade of police officers filled the living room with gifts: red wrapping for her son, Ian Harder, and silver wrapping for her niece, Zinai Maddox.

The surprise — what might be referred to as significant police presents — was organized by officer Tanya Wollstein. She enlisted the support of East Precinct officers, and found other contributors. Then she got an assist from family member Brytney Miller in setting up the surprise.

In their first visit to the house, on Nov. 16, Wollstein and other emergency personnel responded to a 911 call. Peter Harder — Cole’s husband and Ian’s dad — had rolled off the couch and wouldn’t wake up.

“The kids were alone with dad. Nicole was at school,” Wollstein said. “Dad was tired and didn’t feel that good. He had worked an overtime shift the night before for Christmas money.

“He fell off the couch. Zinai and Ian tried to wake him up. They started calling family, and one of them said to call 911.”

By the time she arrived, a Vancouver Fire Department crew was already hard at work, trying to revive the 51-year-old man.

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“Most of my time was with the kids, trying to keep them occupied while medical did their thing,” Wollstein said. “Ian asked, ‘Is my dad going to be OK?’ It was so heart-breaking.”

The officer waited for Cole to get home, and she broke the news to the children.

“She was amazingly composed. She told them what happened; she was incredibly sweet,” Wollstein said.

It’s been a tough couple of Novembers for Cole’s family, by the way. Her sister — Zinai’s mother — died in November 2016.

Wollstein said she wanted to do something for them.

“It’s just a hard-working family,” she said.

She gathered support inside the precinct headquarters. While it wasn’t an official Vancouver police project, “The department supports our staff for things like this,” Kim Kapp, Vancouver Police Spokeswoman, said.

When it came time to contact local retailers, Wollstein started with store loss-prevention officers.

“I know them,” she said.

In addition to gifts donated by stores, employees at a Fred Meyer location pooled their money for a donation. Other donors included Nautilus and City Bible Church.

The family had some Christmas cookies to pass around to the unexpected guests, but Cole also had something else to share: hard-won advice for women about the men they love.

Her husband had health issues, Cole said.

“He wouldn’t go to the doctor. Then, when he went to the doctor, he wouldn’t take the medication,” Cole said. At one point, “I made an appointment, and he didn’t go. I didn’t push it.

“I should have pushed it.”

Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter