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Police Officer Honors His Daughter by Completing Route 66 Ride

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided

All of her friends and family remember Hanna Cox as a social butterfly who doled out kindness to one and all. With friends from all walks of life, she didn’t know a stranger.Hanna Cox

“When we’d go to the mall when she was 8 or 9 years old, I’d look around and ask, ‘Where did Hanna go?’” says her dad, Bobby Cox. “She was two stores down, talking to someone we didn’t even know. She was always like that.”

She didn’t discriminate when it came to loving animals either.

“We’d always find plates outside from her feeding stray cats and dogs,” Cox says. “When she was 10, she desperately wanted a pet alligator so she saved up money to buy one.”

She talked of attending arts school after graduating from high school in June of 2022. However, first came the completion of a dream 15 years in the making. When Hanna was a little girl, she watched the “Cars” movie repeatedly.

“We probably saw it 200 times,” Cox says. The majority of the film’s theme revolves around traveling Route 66, and when Cox asked Hanna what she wanted to do to celebrate her high school graduation, she said she wanted to ride with her dad on his motorcycle down Route 66 to California.

“She was adamant that she wanted to go there and back, regardless of what weather we encountered,” Cox says.

No one had to twist Cox’s arm to convince him. “As a motorcycle rider, Route 66 is the big one,” he says.

Sadly, none of Hanna’s post-grad plans came to fruition because tragedy struck in February of 2022. Hanna was sitting beside her boyfriend in the front seat of his car as he was cleaning his gun and it went off, putting a bullet into her chest. Though it was an accident, that doesn’t make Hanna’s death any less heartbreaking or devastating.

The first couple of months after Hanna’s death, Cox lived in a fog as he grappled with the shock. An officer with the Jonesboro Police Department, he appreciated the outpouring of community support.

“I couldn’t pump gas without someone coming up to express their condolences,” he says.

Hanna CoxHowever, reliving the incident was painful, so for a while he took to shopping in neighboring towns.

Healing after a tragedy takes time, and it also takes effort to put one foot in front of the other.

“In the beginning you don’t want to leave the house, but you’ve got to keep moving forward or [the grief will] consume you,” Cox says. He knew that part of his grief journey involved actual, physical journeying, by completing the long-awaited trip that he and his beloved daughter had been planning for years. But he didn’t go it alone. Hanna’s sister, stepbrother, and five friends tagged along for the 4,999.3-mile trek from Hanna’s gravesite in Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier.

“I had a truck full of 18-year-old girls driving my new pickup truck across America,” Cox says. They pulled a trailer so they could continue on if the bike broke down. Cox admits it was a grueling trip as he rode from sunup until sundown, day in and day out, for seven days straight (the teens switched drivers at each stop). Along the way they snapped pictures of the group, holding a photo of Hanna in front of Route 66 landmarks such as the Wigwam Motel, the Blue Whale of Catoosa and the Grand Canyon. It took seven days to complete the excursion. They arrived at sunset at the Santa Monica Pier, fittingly on Father’s Day.

“It provided closure,” says Cox, who posted a photo to social media saying, “Daddy made it, as promised. It was an amazing journey. I love you!”

For the most part, Cox has just been trying to get through this year of firsts, and anyone who has ever grieved for a love one can tell you it is painful as you navigate that first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Year’s, first birthday and others. In the future, however, Cox would like to focus his efforts on securing funding to offer civilian gun safety and training, even if it’s online.

“You’d be surprised how many people don’t want to ask how to do something because they are embarrassed, but they’ll get online to learn,” Cox says. “If we could do free, online gun safety training, people could do that discreetly.”

Being a veteran police officer, Cox has spent his entire adult life teaching firearm safety to his children. He’s devastated that he lost a child because someone else didn’t do the same.

Hanna Cox

vintage route 66 sign isolated on white background

“So many fathers don’t teach their children life skills these days – everything from changing a tire to tying a tie,” Cox says. “This includes the proper handling of firearms. We can’t just teach kids that guns are evil, bad, dangerous things, because then they will be curious and not ask you for help about how to properly use them.”

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