Funeral for slain officer marked with respect, dignity, unity
By BETH ALSTON
AMERICUS — It was standing-room only inside the Storm Dome on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University Sunday afternoon as a funeral service for Americus Police Officer Nicholas R. Smarr was held. A sea of law enforcement officers, ranging from sheriffs’ offices, police departments, other campus police departments, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia State Patrol, and others from across the state were seated on the main floor of the Dome, along with Smarr’s family. The bleacher seating area was filled with people only wanting to honor Smarr’s memory.
Smarr, 25, and Georgia Southwestern State University Police Officer Jody Smith, 26, were shot in the line of duty Wednesday morning as they responded to a domestic disturbance call. Smarr died while giving aid to Smith, who was his roommate and best friend. Smith, airlifted to a Macon trauma center where he underwent surgery, died Thursday afternoon.
Smarr’s family was escorted into and out of the Dome by a bagpiper. Smarr’s flag-draped casket was flanked by members of the Georgia State Patrol Honor Guard, and banked by floral arrangements and flags.
Kenneth Cutts, aide to 2nd District U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop, offered condolences to Smarr’s family, the Americus Police Department family, and the community. He then read a letter of condolence from the congressman to the Smarr family and community.
Bishop referred to Nicholas Smarr as “a very exceptional young man,” and continued, “ Someone once said that service is the rent that we pay for the space that we occupy here on this earth. Nick’s brief life, a full life, was defined by service. He paid his rent and he paid well. His passing leaves a tremendous void in the Americus community and in all those whose lives he touched. Through his unwavering courage, strong principals, and an avid pursuit of justice, Nick made a tremendous impact on his community. Although I did not know him personally, I know by the virtue of the profession that he chose and his actions on that fateful day, that Nick is the embodiment of true bravery and selflessness.
“John 3:13 tells us ‘greater love hath no man than this — that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ Even after being mortally wounded, all Nick could think of was saving his best friend Jody (Smith, the other officer who was shot and died). We ask our law enforcement officers to give their all, even as we pray they never have to do so. Nick had his whole life ahead of him, yet he never once hesitated to give his all to protect the people in this community. The world is truly a better place because Officer Nick Smarr passed our way … ”
Cutts also offered a special certificate of recognition to Smarr’s family for the officer’s service and sacrifice. He said that Bishop was to read a proclamation into the Congressional record on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, honoring Smarr, Smith, and two Peace County Sheriff’s deputies were also slain in the line of duty recently.
“What makes us great as a nation is … we have men and women who are willing to die and protect those things that we hold dear,” Cutts said. “Tonight, as we go so sleep, we all sleep under the blanket of freedom, but we can only sleep … because of our law enforcement personnel, because of our first responders, and because of those who are in the armed forces of the United States of America. We should never take them for granted; we should never take our freedom for granted. We should always give them honor and praise … ”
Capt. James “Buddy” Johnson, commander of Troop G, Georgia State Patrol, read a letter from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal offering sympathy for the family and community. Deal, in the letter, said the flags at the state Capitol Building had been flown at half-staff.
“ … as Governor, it grieves me when we lose a brave member of our law enforcement community. … The freedoms and liberties we are blessed to enjoy are directly attributed to the courage, dedication, service, and sacrifice of the men and women in uniform … Officer Smarr’s sacrifice is a debt that can never be repaid; however, the state will always honor his legacy and commitment to peace and civic duty …”
Johnson, after reading the governor’s letter, said, “I would be very remiss if I didn’t take just a brief moment to personally and professionally address this great officer’s family and friends, as well as this assembly of brothers and sisters of law enforcement from all over this great nation today.
“Some may ask ‘what does the Georgia State Patrol have to do with this situation?’ Our agency is tasked with many duties but our mission is clearly stated … to assist … local law enforcement agencies … It is a mission we do not take for granted nor do we take it lightly. In order to support an agency, you must become a part of that agency and its members and you must take on responsibilities … Therefore when any law enforcement officer is harmed … we take that very personal and in some ways, it is a personal … on our part. Because regardless of the uniform that officer wears, they always are and will always be, one of us.
“To the family, there are no words that will soothe your pain, nor your frustration here today. Let me be very clear … Officer Smarr and Office Smith did not give their lives in vain. While tragic and senseless, the sacrifice will ensure the safety of many lives in and around this community in the future. They are and will be the faces of positive change to this great city and others as well.
“Let me be very clear that in my 26 short years in law enforcement, thanks to these fine, young men who gave their life serving their community, I have never been more motivated to do my job than I am right now. And I assure each and every one of you that starting immediately, my agency, particularly those under my direct command, will be more prevalent in this area than at any time in history. We will begin the process of removing from the street the criminal element that currently has plagued southwest Georgia. One by one, car by car, house by house, we’ll identify and arrest the degenerates who wish to physically harm others to get what they selfishly want in life. And while this is done to protect the many citizens of our great community, let there be no mistake here today that we will do it also to support, protect, and above all, create a safer environment for our comrades in law enforcement, with the sole intention of never having to respond to a senseless death of a police officer here or anywhere else for that matter.
“We are all family here and we must all come together as a family to defeat those who wish to harm us. God be with you, family, and may God continue to bless the peacekeepers of this great state.”
Americus Police Chief Mark Scott opened with a prayer, expressing the brokenness of and questioning of “why?” from a grieving community. He said God will reveal that in good time because He is sovereign. The police chief asked in his prayer for peace and healing and for the Holy Spirit to flow through the community to bring all together. He said the diversity of our community and our nation is what makes this nation great.
“Today we come together, in unity,” he prayed, “ … together by tragedy, but not identified by tragedy because this is not who we are. This is not who America is … ”
Following his heartfelt prayer, Scott expressed sincere appreciation for the outpouring of support from the local community and beyond. When he returned to the Command Center after the shootings, he didn’t see a face that he didn’t already know. He said he heard commented over and over, “It’s a shame it takes a tragedy like this bring us together.”
“If that was true, it would be a tragedy,” he said. “We are already together,” he said. “People here today don’t see the brotherhood we share … We work together every day … I look around this room today and I see blue, all different shades of blue … tan blue, brown blue and green blue and some baby blue … ” He asked the Smarr family, calling many by name, to stand and look at the people surrounding them. “I want you to look at your family … family, stand with the Smarrs.” Everyone stood and applauded. “Everyone is here for you and for us, and we always will be … ”
He said he “couldn’t believe” the numbers of people who lined the streets Sunday morning when a hearse bore Smarr’s casket from Greg Hancock Funeral Chapel on Southland Road. The entourage, escorted by an Honor Guard of police, sheriff, Georgia State Patrol, fire department, campus safety, etc. traveled up Forsyth Street to Cotton Avenue, and back down Lamar Street to the Storm Dome. He said people from all walks of life lined the streets to pay their respects to the fallen officer, some holding American flags, signs, some praying and saluting, some weeping.
“If Nick had been here this morning, he would have been proud,” the chief said. “He’s smiling right now … I was proud,” he said.
Quoting often from Bible scriptures, Scott likened the community to branches which bear fruit, with Jesus being the vine. “ … A greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his brother.” In this passage, the chief explained, Jesus knew what was about to happen and told his disciples that they would be persecuted, and they had to remain attached to him and to each other, just as the branches of the grape trees must remain attached to the vine in order to bear fruit. “God is the root system,” he said. “We cannot live apart from our source of salvation, and we can’t live apart from each other. We have to have community … if we’re going to lift each other up … ”
He related personal details of Nick Smarr, drawing some much appreciated laughter from his fellow officers, family and friends. He had wise words for “the brotherhood” as well. (Read an expanded version of Scott’s eulogy later this week).
Rick Smarr, a Cordele minister and uncle of Nick Smarr, preached on his nephew and how much the 25-year-old meant to his family and friends. He drew from scripture in a bible lesson that offers hope for a dark world. He urged change in our society, starting now with each and every individual.
As the 90-minute service ended, Chief Scott asked law enforcement and citizens to walk with him to Oak Grove Cemetery, where Smarr was to be laid to rest. His casket was drawn on a caisson pulled by four horses, the North Carolina Caisson Unit. Long in tradition, two horses, since retired, were part of the caisson at President Ronald Reagan’s funeral.
The funeral also included the playing of Taps, and a 21-gun salute.
Funeral services for GSW Police Officer Jody C. Smith, who was also shot and died Thursday, will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the GSW Storm Dome. Smith and Smarr were best friends and answered the domestic call together. Smarr died as he attempted to resuscitate Smith at the scene.