Chaos filled many county sheriff's offices, police and fire departments on Feb, 1, 2003, but the pandemonium gave way to deliberate planning and an organized effort to deal with the space shuttle Columbia disaster.
Retired Department of Public Safety Trooper Butch Fulton clearly remembers the day starting off with a loud bang that shook his home.
Fulton, 49, explained he thought his son and son's friend had done something outside.
“I went out and asked what they had done, and they said nothing. When I looked up I saw the streak across the sky.
“I knew then it wasn't going to be good, so I got in my cruiser, and I could hear on the radio that 911 was going nuts. I thought a jetliner had crashed at first,” he said.
“He said there was a piece of something in the road, and when I got there, I found this piece of metal about the size of the hood on my car. It looked like something with special rivets and a heat shield, so I thought a satellite or something had crashed down,” he said.
Fulton said a few minutes later he asked dispatch if they had heard any news, and he was told the Columbia crew was not answering radio calls, and the space shuttle was missing.
“I told the dispatcher right then that I was with a piece of the shuttle and that it had apparently exploded. I was the first law enforcement officer to confirm shuttle debris in Cherokee County,” he said.
But his piece would not be the only piece found in the county, and calls continued to pour in to the sheriff's office.
“We were running everywhere on calls. Some proved to be nothing, but many of them turned out to be shuttle debris,” Campbell said.
Campbell said GPS was used by more than 150 volunteers to mark each location of debris during the next few weeks, and Fulton said he worked 16-hour days driving NASA engineers and other government officials around the area.
“It was something I will never forget. We were dealing with the debris at first and then came the realization that lives had been lost,” Fulton said. “It was hard to think about, but we all had a job to do.”
Campbell said he would always remember how East Texas was suddenly the nation's focus.
“Everyone around the nation was mourning the loss, and here in East Texas we were working this large-scale scene. We have crime scenes that we work, but in this case the entire area was a scene and it affected a lot of people,” he said.