Sgt. Charles Randall Massengill was her hero and her stepdad … but to Sierra Brooke Mullins Watts he was “my Dad.” He was not there to walk her down the aisle on a sunny November 16, 2022, for her backyard wedding in LaFollette to Daniel Watts. And it was emotional, about as emotional as you’ll see at a wedding.
And no, she didn’t walk alone down the aisle. With bouquet in hand and wearing a beautiful wedding dress, just as she started down the aisle, up walked Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Trooper Michael Heatherly – in uniform.
Heatherly worked with Massengill, also a THP trooper. They were friends. As Heatherly said, “We were family at work and away from work. I always called him ‘Sarge.’”
Massengill was just 49 when he died at a Knoxville hospital after a brief stay from complications associated with sleep apnea. On a table next to the altar was a picture of Massengill. “He was there with us. I could feel him,” Brooke said.
The mother of the bride, Shannon, asked Heatherly if would step in and do the honors and surprise Brooke. He didn’t think twice.
“I immediately knew it’s what I needed to do. If the roles were reversed Sarge would be there for me,” he said. “Just as she started walking, I walked up and put my arm inside hers and she was surprised. We paused for a minute and she had a huge smile on her face and I know I was smiling big, too.”
Brooke’s reaction to Heatherly was special. “When he touched my arm and I looked up I almost thought I saw a ghost, my Dad, in uniform. I cried and was emotional and I knew then he was there. I was caught off guard and speechless. But having Trooper Heatherly with me was so special. Hard to put in words.”
Heatherly, 47, and the father of a 22-year-old daughter, said he almost lost it emotionally. “When she looked at me, I had to really focus on holding it together. There was nothing said. Just smiles. I was really nervous at first and so glad I was able to do this for Brooke and her family.”
When the vows were over and the post-wedding party began, Brooke found Heatherly. “We hugged for a long time. She thanked me and said my stepping in meant the world to her, being there for her and her Dad and Mom. That’s about when the tears started.”
Brooke now has two heroes.
The bride is 23, a native of Middlesboro, Kentucky, and works at Hearthside Bank in Harrogate as a personal banker and teller. She has an arts & sciences associate degree from Southeast Community and Technical College and is working to complete her undergraduate degree in education at Lincoln Memorial University. Her plan is to teach in elementary school (grades K-4).
Her husband, Daniel, works for SRK TN Inc. in Tazewell, Tennessee, which makes anti-vibration products, hoses and soundproofing for the automotive industry.
Massengill and Heatherly worked together on THP’s CIRT (Critical Incident Response Team) for many years. This four-person team covers 24 counties in East Tennessee and investigates all incidents involving fatalities – wrecks, accidents, homicides and anything related to criminal cases involving a death. They deal with forensics and work with the TBI and other agencies on the investigations. It is, Heatherly says, detailed and intensive work involving a lot of traveling. He has been a trooper for 14 years.
Heatherly’s wife is Capt. Stacey Heatherly, the commander of THP’s District 1 in East Tennessee.
Brooke’s family is what most call “blended.” But she calls it “blended and blessed.” She has two siblings – brother Derek Mullins, 29, and younger sister Amber, 19. She has two stepbrothers – twins Levi and Luke, 17, Massengill’s sons from his first marriage. “We’re just a family. Blood does not make a family. The heart does that,” she said.
She met her stepfather when she was 16 and he fell in love with her mother. “He was one of a kind. He was the Dad figure I always wanted. He called me Brookie. Randall stepped up and was that Dad and took care of Mom and me. He was amazing. We had long talks and he’d give me advice and after school I’d tell him how my day went. He kept us all laughing and there was never a dull moment. He was the family comedian.”
Massengill was a talented rhythm guitar player and singer who performed with the groups Blue Moon Rising, Brand New Strings, New Road and One Way Track during his long and successful “side hustle” – as he called this second career. Massengill was a member of the River View Baptist Church and attended the North Side Baptist Church.
During a conversation about her future, Brooke said he told her what she needed to look for in a potential husband. “He called it the definition of a man – he said find a man who will be your partner and friend and not just a husband. A man who values and respects you and he’s got to want what you want in life.”
And she adds, “Along came Daniel.”
After his funeral, Brooke posted a tribute to her stepfather on her Facebook page.
“From giving me life advice, listening to me rant about everything, bringing me anything and everything I need, being a shoulder to cry on, keeping me out of trouble, teaching me how to change oil, how to build a resume and most of all for being the best dad and best friend I have ever had. I’ll never forget everything you have done for me, Mom and Amber. You came into our lives and made everything better. I will miss walking through the house and seeing your face and hearing you say ‘Brookie, where have you been?’ or ‘get your clothes out of the dryer.’ I wish I could turn back time and just hug you again! I can’t wait to tell my kids about their Papaw Randall. I love you and I’ll never forget you, Dad.”
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.