When volunteers at the Humane Society of Wicomico County gathered April 26, they were short one notable face.
Steve Franklin, a former U.S. Marine, has walked dogs at the shelter for nearly a decade, making the 20-minute drive three or four times a week. The Delmar resident and his wife, Judy, also own five dogs of their own, making animal care a major part of their lives.
“He’s an animal lover,” said Megan Koester, event and community relations coordinator at the Humane Society. “He has that need to stay active and get his exercise in by giving back to the dogs.”
He and his wife were among the victims of brutal assaults April 25 that left the couple hospitalized and a Delmar police officer in critical condition.
Just 12 hours after the assault, Franklin texted a fellow volunteer that he wouldn’t be there the following day. The Humane Society is closed Mondays but allows a select group of volunteers in to tend to the animals.
The 73-year-old sent the message while lying in a hospital bed.
Franklin told police he answered a knock at the rear door of his Buckingham Drive home early Sunday morning to find a man, later identified as Randon Wilkerson, telling him there had been a “disturbance across the street,” court documents show.
Franklin was then punched by Wilkerson and beaten with a “glass angel figurine,” according to court documents.
Wilkerson then assaulted Judy Franklin, 76, with glass angel figurines before leaving the home, according to documents.
Judy Franklin suffered “several lacerations to her head, including broken eye sockets,” documents stated.
Both were taken to area hospitals and have since been treated and discharged, state police said.
Delmar police officer Cpl. Keith Heacook was involved in a separate-but-related incident across the street involving Wilkerson, police said. Heacook was sent to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore the morning of the attack and was pronounced clinically dead April 28.
“(Wilkerson) will be held accountable for his heinous crimes against Cpl. Heacook, against the elderly couple he viciously attacked, and against Delmar and our entire state,” Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a news conference.
“So grateful he’s OK”
Koester has known Steve Franklin since 2016. She says the highlight of his week is coming to walk the shelter’s dogs.
She described him as someone always in good spirits, who stops and chats with everyone he encounters, looks to help when needed and maintains an undeniable love for animals.
“We love him,” Koester said. “He’s just very warm and very friendly.”
Director Kim Nock called Franklin one of the strongest men she’s ever met. Knowing the Delmar resident for eight years, Nock and others offered to help clean Franklin’s house and care for his dogs while he and Judy recovered from their injuries.
The Humane Society created a GoFundMe page for Steve and Judy, hoping to assist with medical bills, meals and other expenses they may face following the assault.
As of Friday, the account had raised more $21,300. Other donations from those who know the couple also continue to pour in.
“We had somebody drop off a swimming pool for the dogs, and they want it named after Steve and Judy,” Nock said. “It’s things like that which shows how wonderful our community is when something like this happens.”
Though Steve and Judy continue to recover, Koester said the longtime volunteer is eager to get back to his dog-walking routine.
“I’m sure he’ll try to come back sooner than he should,” she said. “We want him to take the rest and recovery he needs. I know it will take a while to heal from the trauma.”
Franklin still plans to make it back to the shelter in the near future. He’s told multiple volunteers to expect him Monday morning, just over a week after the assault.
While he longs for normalcy, Franklin remains thankful for the support and effort made by the community.
“He told me how appreciative he is about everyone coming together from him and Judy,” Koester said. “He doesn’t have enough words to explain how grateful he is. He said life is not without its ups and downs, but it continues to be so good.
“We’re so grateful he’s OK, and we’re ready for him to come back when he’s well enough to be here.”
Delmarva Now reporter Rose Velazquez contributed to this article.