Condolences, prayers, support pour into local community

Published 10:44 am Saturday, December 10, 2016

AMERICUS — The Americus community, united in grief by the loss of two police officers on Wednesday, continued to receive condolences for the officers’ families on Friday, and to demonstrates support with prayers and in other ways.
A statement from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, extended their deepest sympathy to the families. “Every police officer dreads responding to domestic violence calls as they are often presented with the nightmarish scenario where the responding officers become the target.  The courageous and selfless response of Officers Smarr and Smith was nothing short of heroic. They typified the selflessness and the internal steel with which law enforcement officers across the State of Georgia, and nationwide display every day. Police officers face real and constant dangers that threaten the lives and properties of the citizens and communities they are sworn to protect and serve.
“This is the seventh death of a police officer in Georgia this year. This represents over a 200 percent increase in the past two years. While some have focused upon rare excesses in police responses, this case underscores the need for communities to embrace and support police officers and their families. This is especially tragic, coming at a time of the year when officers and their families are looking forward to celebrating a season of joy and peace to all men and women of good will.
“The community of Americus has suffered grave losses in the death of these two fine officers. We will not dignify the perpetrator by mentioning his name; but his suicide, when he was about to be apprehended, offers small comfort to the two officers’ families, friends, and colleagues.
“The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police appreciates the kindness and compassion shown by the citizens of our state.  Without their assistance, the felon who committed this atrocity would still be at large.  GACP also thanks our federal, state and local law enforcement partners for their collaborative efforts in helping our brothers and sisters of the Americus Police Department and the Southwestern University Police Department.”
Georgia Southwestern State University issued the following late Thursday afternoon.
“We have just received word that GSW Public Safety Officer Jody Smith has succumbed to his injuries and has passed away. We offer our deepest condolences to his family during this very difficult time. Officer Smith was a bright, young and energetic officer, and he will be sorely missed,” from GSW Interim President, Charles Patterson.
USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby issued the following later Thursday.
“We were deeply saddened to learn that GSW Public Safety Officer Jody Smith passed away this afternoon. Our campus police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our campus communities. Officer Smith and Americus Police Officer Nicholas Smarr are true heroes and will be remembered for their sacrifices and dedication to their community. We are grateful for the partnership between Georgia Southwestern State University and the Americus Police Department and offer our condolences and support to them at this time. Officer Smith dedicated his life to protecting our students, faculty, staff and the citizens of Americus. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, Georgia Southwestern State University and the Americus community.”
Other signs of support began appearing around the community on Thursday as blue ribbons were posted around in various locations. Accounts have been set up at Citizens Bank of Americus in which individuals can donate to the families of the two officers. In addition, Americus resident, Jessica Knight will be selling memorial T-shirts between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. today, Dec. 10, at The Maze, in downtown Americus. Shirts will be available to order until Dec. 16. All proceeds will go to benefit the families of the officers. This fundraiser is being carried out by a group of local nursing students who knew Smarr.
Blue ribbons were being made by a group of volunteers at the Americus Visitors Center and downtown merchants and others were urged to place one on their businesses.
The GSW chapter Sigma Chi fraternity had planned a prayer vigil for 7 p.m. Friday at the front entrance of the Wheatley Administration Building to honor and remember the fallen officers.
The Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce issued a statement concerning its Sumter on Ice event Friday morning.
“A community that has suffered great shock and pain over the last week is coming together to demonstrate love and support for the families impacted by the tragic events that have transpired in our hometown over the last several days, including all who have been impacted by this traumatic loss in one way or another. With the strength and resilience born of a community which has suffered great loss in recent decades — a flood, tornado and now the taking of human lives — residents of Sumter County are uniting in solidarity around an already-planned community event to offer hope and healing to all in our community, Sumter on Ice.”
The 21-day event in downtown Americus opened Friday at Rylander Park with “words of comfort, unity and prayer.” Local religious and civic leaders were to come together in “a spirit of love and graciousness to provide hope to a hurting community and offer a moment of calm as we remember that we are one community together despite tragedy.
“In appreciation of our law enforcement officials and their families, and all that they do every day around the year on behalf of our community in order to make it a safe place to live and work, we are opening the ice on Monday, Dec. 26, to any and all law enforcement offers and their families for a day of “free skating.” Honoring our Heroes Behind the Badge, a day of “Skating for Service,” will be held in their honor the day after Christmas. This special event will be open to law enforcement officials from around the region, as our way of saying thanks for your service and sacrifice to our community.”
South Georgia Technical College cancelled its annual Christmas Buffet, scheduled for Thursday evening, out of respect. SGTC President John Watford, Ed.D., said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire South Georgia Technical College faculty, staff, and students, I would like to offer our condolences to the family and friends of Americus Police Officer Nicholas R. Smarr, and … Georgia Southwestern State University Campus Safety Officer Jody C. Smith.
“This was a difficult decision,” said Watford, “but out of respect for the two law enforcement officers, their family and friends, and for the many first responders who are still involved in this active investigation, we felt that this was the appropriate thing to do.  The safety of our community and our supporters is of vital importance and must take priority in this type of situation.”
Much of the food already prepared for the event was donated and served to the members of the law enforcement community involved in this ongoing investigation and taken to the victims’ families.