MYRTLE BEACH—In 2017, missionaries from St. James Church in Conway made a pilgrimage to Honduras to help repair a church in a small, rural community. The group included a tall man with a seemingly perpetual smile and a sunny attitude, even when the work was hot and sweaty.
That man, seen in floppy hat and sunglasses in photos, was Jacob Hancher, a St. James parishioner. At the time he was only 20, but already knew what he wanted to do with his life: He wanted to be a police officer.
His dream came true, but that life ended too quickly three years later.
On Oct. 3, Officer Jacob Hancher of the Myrtle Beach Police Department died after he was shot while responding to a domestic violence call. He was only 23, and had worn the badge for just over a year.
Two weeks after his death, members of the parish who knew Hancher and know his family members, who also attend St. James, are still trying to make sense of the tragedy.
Father Oscar Borda Rojas, pastor at St. James, led a moving public rosary and prayer service outside the church on Oct. 7. Parishioners and members of the community stood near a lit cross and prayed together. A memorial wreath bearing Hancher’s photo — an image showing his perpetual smile — stood nearby.
Taylor Monahan, youth minister, was one of those who prayed for him that night. She helped organize and lead the mission trip that Hancher and his mom, Suzanne Williams, were on, spending two weeks of hard work repairing that small church.
“Jacob was a bigger guy and he was strong so he did a lot of heavy lifting,” she recalled. “He worked on moving big boulders that needed to be taken out of the area. He mixed concrete. Working and living alongside someone for two weeks, you get to know them really quickly, and I got to know that he was a sweet, kind, caring soul. He never had anything negative to say about anybody or anything, and he never complained.”
She said Hancher was perfect for mission work because he was willing to “roll with the punches”, and accept schedule changes and setbacks that invariably happen on such trips.
“He knew he was there for something greater than himself, and that’s what he did,” she said. “The best way I can describe him is he had a natural servant’s heart. I was struck by that. He was already a volunteer firefighter, and he definitely knew at that point he wanted to be a police officer. Some people like Jacob have that natural gift to serve others.”
Monahan said Hancher wanted to return to Honduras with the team in 2019, but he couldn’t because he was completing his police force training. Now, like others at the parish, she remembers the times she did get to share with her friend Jacob, and she is focused on ways to help his mom and other members of the family.
“The vision at our parish is to be a community of joyful disciples, and we know that Jacob was one,” she said. “He died while giving of himself and doing something he loved.”
Father Borda has since spoken with a local artist about painting a mural at St. James in response to Hancher’s death. The mural will honor Officer Hancher and Corporal Dennis James Lyden, another St. James parishioner who worked for the Horry County Police Department and was killed in the line of duty in 2000.
The mural will also pay tribute to frontline workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The parish is in the process of raising funds for the mural.