Stan Cooper had a New Year’s tradition: He always cooked a pot of black-eyed peas and made his children eat at least a spoonful for good luck.
"He got that from his parents in Oklahoma," his stepson Steven Bentley-Cooper recalled.
Last year was no different for the Cooper family. Cooper cooked the pot of peas, and his family dutifully ate them.
But Cooper’s luck ran out on the morning of Jan. 4, when a gunman entered his workplace and killed him.
His son Marty and stepson Rick Bentley-Cooper planned to carry on the good-luck tradition this year, but not Steven.
"I’m mad at black-eyed peas right now," he said, allowing himself to chuckle at the comment.
The three men gathered last week in the northeast Las Vegas home where they grew up, the home where Marty now lives with his own family, to discuss the upcoming anniversary of their father’s death.
"We still cry, but we smile more, that’s for sure," Steven said.
Cooper and their mother divorced many years ago. He also had three other children from a prior marriage, but his first daughter died in a car accident when she was 11.
Rick and Steven’s biological father came to offer his support after Cooper’s death, and Rick recalled telling him, "The greatest gift you could ever give us kids was to have Stan Cooper raise us."
In recent years, Steven and Cooper lived together in Sandy Valley, where the great-grandfather spent his free time grooming and riding horses. Steven was the last family member to see Cooper alive.
Cooper, 72, worshipped every Sunday evening at the Northside Church of Christ in North Las Vegas. He spent time with Marty and Rick before attending the Jan. 3 service, then drove back to Sandy Valley.
He rose early the next morning before making the hour drive to the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, where he worked as a court security officer, and where he would die.
"My dad was basically at the wrong place at the wrong time," Steven said.
At first, Rick and his wife worried that Cooper had died alone. But then they heard the story of a young court recorder named Denise Saavedra, a devout Christian who prayed over the dying security officer in the courthouse rotunda.
"So we know that he didn’t pass alone, and it was definitely comforting," Rick said.
Cooper spent 26 years as a Las Vegas police officer before retiring as a sergeant in 1990. When he started a new career in 1994, his family thought he had found a "cushy job" in courthouse security.
"That was a kickback retirement job," Steven said.
The new federal courthouse opened in 2000 with the nation’s first blast-resistant curtain wall, a response to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
So the Coopers believed their father, who was badly injured in a 1986 motorcycle crash during a chase, had finally found a safe job.
"We never thought he would have a problem down there," Steven said.
But, Rick knows: "There’s a lot of crazy people out there who do some crazy things."
They just never thought something this crazy would happen to their dad.
Yet they know there are worse ways he could have gone.
Alzheimer’s disease ran in Cooper’s family, and he worried about losing his independence later in life. Instead, Steven said, Cooper died at a job he loved, with his gun and his buddies at his side.
Steven likes to think of his father as an athlete who went out "at the top of his game."
About 2,000 people attended Cooper’s memorial service at Central Christian Church in Henderson.
Marty said he and his siblings want to express their gratitude for everything the U.S. Marshals Service and Las Vegas police did for the family after their father’s death.
In April, Cooper was honored at a Marshals Service awards ceremony in Arlington, Va., where several relatives accepted the Fallen Hero Award on his behalf.
In May, Cooper was honored in Carson City, where his name has been inscribed on the Nevada Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Plans also are in the works to name the courthouse rotunda after Cooper.
And on Tuesday, his children plan to spread his ashes in the mountains overlooking Sandy Valley. Cooper wanted it that way, so he could keep an eye on his ranch and his family.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.