An Astoria police officer died at home Friday.
Sam Whisler, 26, had worked the graveyard shift and returned home early in the morning. His wife found him dead in the home later that day.
Astoria Police Chief Geoff Spalding said it appears Whisler died of natural causes, though the exact reason is still unknown. Family members say Whisler suffered from seizures as a child.
“It’s just a tremendous loss for the department and his family, and his law enforcement family,” Spalding said.
Whisler was an “over-the-top friendly guy,” the police chief said.
The youngest in a large family, Whisler was known for both his genuine kindness but also the pranks he liked to pull on older siblings.
From an early age, he felt drawn to a life in service. His father, Mark Whisler, worked for the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office for decades, assigned for some time to the county’s narcotics task force. Others in his extended family had served in law enforcement and the military.
When he was 13, Sam Whisler started volunteering with the sheriff’s office search and rescue team.
He became an enforcement cadet with the sheriff’s office in 2013 and a reserve deputy in 2017. He joined the Astoria Police Department in January 2020. He was also a volunteer with the Gearhart Fire Department and a lifeguard and rescue swimmer for the Seaside Fire Department.
“We always knew he would wear a uniform,” his mother, Lisa Whisler, said. “We just weren’t sure which one.”
Whisler himself didn’t seem to know. He thought about pursuing a career as a medic, firefighter or police officer.
He told his father, “I want to help people. I’m just not sure how yet.”
When the Astoria Police Department hired him, everything seemed to have come together for him: wife, kids, home and career.
“His life, in his eyes, was complete,” said Amanda Laird, his sister. “He had everything he wanted.”
Whisler and his father had brief conversations nearly every day while he was driving to work. They would talk about the previous day, the calls he had responded to as a police officer. It had become a conversation between peers.
With the hiring of Whisler and two other officers in the past year and a half, the Astoria Police Department was on its way to being at full strength with 17 sworn officers for the first time in years.
The department had lost officers to retirement or other job opportunities. All positive, normal things, Spalding said, but he and Deputy Chief Eric Halverson had just been talking about how nice it was to be up to the department’s full strength.
Whisler was out of training and patrolling on his own by the end of last year. Though Whisler’s time with the department was brief, the community already loved him and his upbeat, positive personality, Spalding said.
A GoFundMe campaign Laird organized to help support Whisler’s wife, Christin, and the couple’s children hit its goal of $10,000 within hours of launching. The campaign had raised just over $20,000 as of Monday.
Christin called “Sammy” — her nickname for her husband — the most compassionate, nonjudgmental person she had ever met. She felt she could tell him anything, even her darkest thoughts.
“I knew I would just receive love,” she said. “No matter what I was saying, I just got back love.”
They would have been married two years this August and had one daughter together. Whisler was also a devoted and engaged stepfather for Christin’s 5-year-old son.
In the days since Sam Whisler died, Christin has considered if she wants to move away. She said she’s already dismissed the thought.
“To leave is to leave his memory,” she said.
She wants to stay in the home they shared, take a shower in the same bathroom, sleep in the same bedroom.
The loss is fresh. Many of the memories Sam Whisler’s family reach for are more sensory than story — simple, even mundane moments, as if his life has only paused.
Lisa Whisler thinks of his smiles, his hugs, his face, how he always loved to be home and around his family.
“Let’s stay home sweet home,” he used to tell her when he was very young.
She sees his eyes when she looks at his 2-year-old daughter’s face.
Christin thinks about the quiet weekends spent at home, just her and Sam and the kids hanging out in the backyard, doing nothing together.
“We could be sitting nowhere with nothing going on,” she said, “and we’d just have the best time.”
The memory Mark Whisler keeps thinking about is being at his son’s house and watching Sam walk down a hallway. He’s watching Sam at an angle from behind — “just looking at this young man, big and burly and friendly as can be” — as he’s walking away from him.