(KMSP) - In a room full of hugs, and congratulations there’s also sadness and regret.
“This is an event that changed my entire life,” said retired St. Paul Police Officer Jim Groh.
“We only wish we could have been there quicker and the outcome would have been different,” added retired St. Paul Police Sgt. Rick Klein.
On Nov. 10, 1981, 6-year-old Cassie Hansen disappeared from her St. Paul Church. Just a couple years into their careers with the St. Paul Police Sgt. Klein and Officer Groh were first on the scene.
“We had a feel after 30 minutes this was not going to turn out good,” Sgt. Klein said.
After spending an agonizing night searching, Hansen was found murdered and molested the next morning in a dumpster three miles away near Grand and Grotto Street.
In the months that followed, Dorothy Noga became a critical informant. Stuart Knowlton confessed to her over the phone twice, before cutting her throat in an attempt to keep her quiet.
“He shoved [the knife] way up under my ear into my eye,” Noga said.
Now retired, officer Pat Scott saved Noga’s life, which also saved Hansen’s case.
“My kids were scared for years,” Officer Groh said.
On what happens to be the 36th anniversary since Noga nearly lost her life, she, along with the three now retired officers, was given the Chief’s Award for Merit. Their own families, along with Hansen’s, gathered at the West Police District Headquarters for the occasion. The crown included Brittany Koller and Ashley Withrow - sisters both born after Hansen was killed.
“It’s surreal. It’s amazing to meet the people who helped our family and our parents get closer,” Koller said.
Though few in this room got to meet Hansen, she changed the careers, parenting styles and lives of those honored - and beyond.
“She was a sweet sweet girl,” said Kathy White, Hanen’s aunt. “We talk about her often.”