Being a criminal investigator often entails becoming the deliverer of bad news to family members of those who have lost their lives due to the senseless acts of others.
To Andy Cook, being an investigator is more than just figuring out what happened and learning who was responsible for taking an innocent person's life. To him, it also means providing support to the victim's family while also working tirelessly to solve a case and bringing justice to the forefront.
Cook began his career at the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office in 2012 as a reserve deputy. He joined the FCSO team full time in 2013 and patrolled the many miles that make up Faulkner County. In December 2017, he began working in the Criminal Investigations Division at FCSO. Since then, he has played a key role in solving a number of high-profile cases.
Among the ever-growing list of cases he has helped solve includes Cook's work in the Fragstein case.
While he gives thanks to everyone around him who helped shape him to be the investigator he is today, Cook was ultimately recognized earlier this week as the Faulkner County Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
"Honoring law enforcement officers from across our great state is humbling and a great honor," Rutledge said following the Tuesday conference where an officer from each Arkansas county was recognized for their recent work. "Our brave men and women in blue sacrifice so much for their communities, going above and beyond to keep their neighbors safe from harm. With 2018 being a record year for nominations, I would like to congratulate and thank some of the best law enforcement officers in the nation."
FCSO spokesman Erinn Stone said there was no question in nominating Cook for the award following his work in the Fragstein case.
"Investigator Cook was recognized for the dedication and hard work which allowed him to work tirelessly not only within our agency but with two other agencies to solve Elvia Fragstein's homicide case," she said.
Receiving the award was an honor Cook described as "truly humbling."
"It really is humbling. It really, truly is," he told the Log Cabin Democrat on Thursday. "I am so thankful that I got the award from the Attorney General's Office and I greatly appreciate the sheriff's office in putting their trust and faith in me in working here and doing the job and representing them. If it wasn't for everyone that I have worked with from patrol to CID, I probably wouldn't be where I'm at today. I have a lot of thanks to those guys who helped me."
Loving and respecting the job is important
Cook is a family man. He has two young sons with his wife Lauren Cook.
The two are high school sweethearts, Lauren said, noting she has watched Andy grow in his career through the years.
What's most important and also aides Andy in his line of duty on a daily basis, Lauren said, is that her husband's heart is truly in the right place as he works to seek local justice.
Lauren said she believes her sweetheart is deserving of this recent honor and that his family applauds his work.
"He is very humble and doesn't like to be bragged on, but we're just extremely proud of everything he has accomplished thus far," she said. "He has been through a lot of bad things pre-law enforcement and he uses that as fuel to do his job better. It's extra rewarding for us as his family to see him being recognized. It's hard to see him get emotionally and physically exhausted when he's working on big stuff or has a lot going on. It's hard when he has to miss family activities for work. I tease him that he is an over-achiever at his job, but to see his hard work pay off like this, that makes his dedication worth it."
As a child, Andy witnessed firsthand the devastation and painful impact domestic violence causes families.
He uses his own personal experiences to help better the lives of others.
"I had a pretty rough childhood," he said. "I've seen a lot of domestic violence growing up. I always told myself as a child that I wanted to be in law enforcement to be there to help those in need because I know what it's like to want help. I felt like if I got in law enforcement, I could share some of my life experiences with somebody and maybe help them through a bad time in their life or a bad situation they're in."
While he truly enjoys the work he does on a daily basis, Andy said he credits much of his work and abilities to those who came before him and helped train him.
"I'm around a lot of seasoned investigators. Those guys have really helped me along the way," he said. "It doesn't matter how big or small the cases are, I know that if I pick up the phone or go across the hall, they don't hesitate to help me. They just come and do it and help with whatever I need help with. They're just a great group of guys to be around and I lean on them quite a bit."
Andy's work ethic spills into his family life in a positive way, Lauren said, noting their 4- and 7-year-old sons have learned to respect authority "and they also know first hand that there is a heart and a real person behind the badge and uniform."
The Cook children greet officers with smiles and treat all in law enforcement as "daddy's cop buddies."
Given the love he shows their family on a daily basis as well as the support system he provides to victim families, Lauren said she believes Andy continues making a difference in the right way locally and that he sets a great example for others.
"I believe that if every person in law enforcement dedicated themselves to their duties as much as he does, the world would be a better place," she said. "Every position that he's ever been in, from a rookie to a sergeant to now, he's always given 200 [percent]. He sets a great example to everyone who knows him on a personal level and a professional level."
Andy said he works hard to show victims' families they are not alone in their tragedies and that he along with others at the sheriff's office will remain at their side.
To Andy, building relationships with victims' families is just part of the job.
With the Fragstein case, there was no exception to that notion, he said.
"You build relationships with the victims' families. That's especially the case with this case," he said. "[Helmut Fragstein] is the sweetest gentleman I've ever met."
The Fragsteins have remained strong in what Andy believes is "probably the worst time of their life" and also remain gracious to the efforts of FCSO.
"I love just sitting with [Mr. Fragstein] and talking with him," Andy said. "Not necessarily about the case, but just about his background and what he used to do and what he likes to do. You get attached to the families. I think that also helps you to strive to get the case solved."
Stone said she applauded Andy as well as other investigators for their constant work in the Fragstein case.
Many nights as this investigation unfolded, Andy and others on the team did not turn in to sleep but instead worked through the night to find answers.
Andy said along with his gratitude in being nominated for and receiving the 2018 Faulkner County Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award for his work in the Fragstein case, he wanted to take a moment to thank the other agencies -- the Conway Police Department detectives and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office -- that aided in the investigation.
"I can't stress enough how awesome those guys were in [helping] to solve this investigation," he said. "If it hadn't been for Conway PD and Jefferson County helping as much as they did, we may not have had the same outcome in this particular case. I cannot stress to everyone enough that those guys played a vital role in this investigation. I can't thank them enough."