It’s a sunny afternoon, and Karen Highbarger sits in what, under different circumstances, may have been a sunroom in her Williamsport home. Instead, it has been turned into a room dedicated to her late son, Christopher Shane Nicholson.
“I just miss him,” Highbarger said.
He started his life fighting. From the time he was born, doctors were unsure that he would survive.
“He had a major heart defect that required open-heart surgery,” Highbarger said.
The month before he turned 26, Nicholson was murdered.
As one of four members of the Smithsburg Police Department, Nicholson was on-duty the night of December 19, 2007, when a tragedy began to unfold.
What happened that night changed the lives of many people, those both close to Nicholson and some whom had never even met him before.
Growing up, Highbarger said that Nicholson, the oldest of two sons, was always one to look out for others. He loved hunting, fishing and playing sports, football in particular.
“The way he was growing up, always trying to help people and protect people. I think it was like middle school that his dad took him to the FBI building in Washington, and from that time on, that’s all he talked about,” Highbarger said.
Through hard work and dedication, Nicholson graduated from Williamsport High School, and later, the police academy. He landed his first policing job with the Smithsburg Police Department.
Smithsburg’s current chief of police, George Knight, took over command of the department after Nicholson was no longer there.
Chief Knight, a Smithsburg resident, said it did not take long for Nicholson to become well-known around the town.
“He was known as ‘Officer Chris,’” Chief Knight said.
Fast-forward to a year-and-a-half after beginning his service with the town of Smithsburg – December 19, 2007.
It was a Wednesday night, just before Christmas, and Nicholson was the on-duty officer for the department, according to Captain Mark Knight of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Douglas Pryor, 29, of Smithsburg, reportedly killed the mother of his children in Halfway, Md., before heading toward his parents’ home in Smithsburg with his two small children.
Nicholson responded to the scene. While waiting for backup, he was shot – an action later that would prove fatal – by Pryor.
“He’s sitting in a farm lane, a couple hundred yards away from where the suspect’s parents live, and sees the black pickup truck that we’re looking for in the driveway,” Captain Knight recalled.
Captain Knight said the next thing responding officers heard was that Nicholson was shot.
Nicholson’s death impacted the small community where he served, the town where he lived, the county and the greater law enforcement community as a whole.
Highbarger said her son has been honored with medals, awards and many other recognitions for service. Photos of Nicholson hang directly inside the doors of the Smithsburg Police Department.
“We made sure that we posted those things [photos] in an area that, when I walk in in the morning, I see Chris’ face,” Chief Knight said. “We think about him often.”
Pryor is serving multiple life sentences for the murders of both Nicholson and Alison Munson.
“He plead guilty and is serving six life terms,” Captain Knight said.