Soldier Surprise: Mom Overjoyed on 5th Anniversary of Son's Death

Updated: 07/24/2014 10:25 PM
Created: 07/24/2014 5:55 PM
By: Josh Rosenthal

They say life is full of surprises. Thursday afternoon, amidst the hustle and bustle of a downtown Minneapolis lunch hour, Jill Stephenson's surprise waited behind an SUV.

When Erick Innis popped out, Stephenson was speechless. Innis isn't Jill's son, but he might as well be.

In Afghanistan, Innis fought alongside Stephenson's actual son, Rosemount native and Army Ranger Ben Kopp. Innis and Kopp were best friends. When Kopp was shot by a sniper in July 2009, Innis carried him to the medivac. Weeks later, when Kopp was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Innis was there too.

"He was my best friend," said Innis "So inadvertently he becomes my brother."

In death, Kopp became just as much of a hero as he was in life. Curtis Brantley got his liver. Fred Thurston received one of his kidney's. Davaun Mason received the other, and Judy Meikle got his heart.

"And it always beats faster when I touch it," Stephenson said in a 2011 interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

But even though Stephenson and Meikle stayed in touch, nothing touches Stephenson's heart quite like seeing Innis.

"How did she find you?" she asked her friend through tears, after the surprise.

This week is the fifth anniversary of Kopp's death. Innis, who lives in Virginia, flew in for a memorial ceremony and fundraiser being held this weekend in Kopp's honor. Stephenson had no idea. She thought she was meeting a friend to pick up a mystery item to be included in the silent auction.

"I thought what kind of big ugly, gaudy thing is Jessica giving me?" Stephenson laughed.

Innis replied, "I guess that would be me."

"Erick is Ben's best friend," Stephenson continued. "And when I look at Erick's eyes, when I look in his eyes I see Ben. They're brothers, from a different mother. They're brothers."

The Ben Kopp Memorial starts Friday night with a dinner and silent auction. It ends Saturday with a 150-mile memorial motorcycle ride. If you'd like to take part, you can view details on the event's website.

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