SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Law enforcement agencies from across the state of Tennessee gathered at Bristol Motor Speedway Tuesday evening with the goal of helping a 12-year-old and his mission to honor fallen first responders.
Zechariah Cartledge, 12, of Florida, started a non-profit two years ago called “Running 4 Heroes” with a goal of paying tribute to fallen first responders while also raising money for injured first responders after running the ‘Tunnel to Towers” 5K in his hometown of Orlando which honors those who lost their lives on 9/11.
“During the run, I was inspired by all the first responders running in their full gear past me,” Cartledge said. “I decided to ask my mom and dad ‘Hey, can I know more about 9/11?’ because I was only nine and I didn’t know much about it. Once I found out about that and all the first responders that gave up their life on that day. I just was inspired by first responders and I wanted to do something for them and that’s what kind of started the idea of my own non-profit.”
In February 2019, Zechariah posted a video on social media dedicating one of his runs to Sgt. Steve Hinkle with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.
“After every single run, I usually give the flag to the family I ran for. I usually send it to them because obviously I’m at my house and I do most of the runs, but in this case, I was running for all fallen Tennessee heroes,” he said. “Knowing that the Hinkle family was here because when I just started, obviously, I only had one or two flags since I was only just starting my non-profit so I wanted to still be able to give a flag to them.”
Sgt. Hinkle was killed in the line of duty while responding to a welfare check call in February 2019.
Zechariah arrived in Knoxville Monday and was honored by first responders as soon as he landed at McGhee Tyson Airport.
Zechariah then made his way to the Tri-Cities region, where dozens of law enforcement agencies from all across the state joined him in his run in the state of Tennessee which commemorated his 850th mile.
“In 2019, we lost nine officers across the state. He ran for all nine of those officers and we presented flags for all nine of those families, including Sgt. Hinkle,” said Wilson Co., Tennessee Deputy David Stolinsky who also serves as the Law Enforcement Liaison for Middle and East Tennessee Concerns of Police Survivors. “In 2020, he presented the flag to the Legieza family down in Brentwood and then this year, he’s running for our COVID officers. We’ve lost eight officers so far since January 1 to COVID here in Tennessee.”
Stolinsky made the four-hour trek from Middle Tennessee to Knoxville, then to Bristol with about 30 other law enforcement officers from the metro-Nashville area.
“Zechariah to us is a rock star. He gives law enforcement hope clear across this state and we had to be here,” Stolinsky said. “I have delivered his flags personally to the families after a line of duty death and to see the emotion on their face and what he does for those families- we of course had to be here to welcome him to Tennessee.”
The large turnout in Bristol showcased the impact of line of duty deaths.
“It’s really a true testament of what a brotherhood, friendship, camaraderie law enforcement, and first responders have,” said Sullivan Co. Sheriff Jeff Cassidy. “We all are out here trying to protect our communities and do the right thing and stuff, and I know sometimes that law enforcement – the law enforcement community gets sort of a black eye because of one wrongdoing. But just remember the majority of law enforcement are good people and we’re just out here to do what’s right, do it ethically and morally and protect our communities across the nation.”
After his run, Zechariah took a moment to pray and present a flag to Sgt. Hinkle’s family.
“It brings back some tragic memories but Zechariah, the way he prays and praises first responders, prays over us and gives the families some hopes and smiles on their faces,” Cassidy said. “He’s just a true angel and inspiration for me to be around.”
Zechariah has five more runs coming up when he returns home to Florida from Tennessee.