The letter arrived at the Star-Telegram offices on Sunday from Mark Riddle of Walsh, Colo., wanting the world to know about the extraordinary kindness of a particular police officer.
That generosity came in April, just months after he and his wife went through a parent’s worst nightmare — their daughter and their 3-month-old grandson were found dead with their necks cut in December 2016 in their north Fort Worth home. Their son-in-law was arrested and charged with capital murder.
Since December 2016, the Riddles have made numerous trips to Fort Worth to maintain and check on the house and to converse with prosecutors on the case.
In April, vandals damaged the home, and the Riddles returned to make repairs, having to spend a few nights at a hotel.
Enter Officer Matt Carstens, who responded to the vandalism call and spent the day with the family, hearing their horrific story about Shanna Riddle Vandewege and her infant son, Diederik.
“I felt like they needed a lift,” Carstens said in a telephone interview this week. He declined to do a video interview or have his photo taken. “I was in a position where I could do something.”
So he paid their hotel bill at the Courtyard by Marriott Fort Worth at Alliance for one night, spending about $180.
“I was at the front desk and the clerk told me, ‘Here’s a gift,’” Riddle said. “You don’t think about someone doing that for you.”
The letter to the Star-Telegram emphasized that.
“How often does a case like that happen?” Riddle wrote. “We’re so grateful for your police force and officers like Carstens.”
Riddle was staying at the hotel with his wife and son.
The Riddle family first encountered Fort Worth police in December 2016 after the slaying of their daughter and grandson. Craig Alan Vandewege called 911 on the night of Dec. 15, 2016, to report he had come home to find his wife and infant son dead in their home in north Fort Worth.
The couple moved to Fort Worth in 2016 from Colorado. Vandewege worked at a Costco, and his wife was a registered nurse at a local hospital. She was on maternity leave when she and the baby were killed.
Vandewege was arrested in Colorado a few days after the slayings. He had told a co-worker he was taking new medications that were making him hear voices telling him to kill people, according to an arrest warrant obtained by the Star-Telegram in January 2017..
The Vandewege house has remained vacant, but the Riddles have traveled to Fort Worth several times to watch over and maintain it. In April, vandals caused about $8,000 worth of damage to the home, kicking in doors and rummaging through the residence, police said.
“The first night we could only put some things up against the door to brace it and keep people out,” Riddle said. “We came back the next day and someone had moved the stuff to get inside, so we called police to make a report.”
Carstens, a 14-year veteran of the department, answered the call, spending most of the day with the Riddle family.
“I remembered what had happened,” Carstens said of the December slayings.
By the end of the day, he decided he would help the family.
“I didn’t do it for any recognition,” Carstens said. “I became a police officer to help others and serve the community and that’s what I did then.”
Carstens said he received a text from the Riddle family, thanking him for his kindness.
“Just that text message was enough for me,” he said.
Riddle and his family wouldn’t forget. Riddle said he sent the letter to the Star-Telegram at a time when many people have a distrust for police officers.
“Someone needed to know what he did,” he said. “These are special people.”