Families, fellow officers remember fallen Americus heroes

Families, fellow officers remember fallen Americus heroes
Officer Jody Smith with his mother, Sumter Co. Sgt. Sharron Johnson (Source: Facebook)
Officer Jody Smith with his mother, Sumter Co. Sgt. Sharron Johnson (Source: Facebook)
Officer Nick Smarr with his mother, Janice Smarr (Source: Facebook)
Officer Nick Smarr with his mother, Janice Smarr (Source: Facebook)

AMERICUS, GA (WALB) - Thursday marked one year since tragedy struck a small South Georgia city.

Many Americus citizens said they never expected what happened on December 7th, 2016 to happen in their town.

Americus Police Officer Nick Smarr and Georgia Southwestern State University Officer Jody Smith responded to a domestic dispute call that day.

Both were shot. Smarr died on scene, and Smith died the next day.

Though it has been 365 days since that shooting, it is evident the lives of their loved ones will never be the same.

WALB News 10's Emileigh Forrester sat down with Officer Smith's mom, Sharron Johnson, and Officer Smarr's mom, Janice Smarr, to take a look back at their sons' lives.

"This is his wallet, his phone, his keys, his glasses," Johnson said as she pointed out keepsakes she has in her bedroom to remind her of her son. "This is the teddy bear that was given that has his heartbeat."

Her son was engaged, set to get married in 2017.

"Everything was just going just like clockwork for him," Johnson said. "All his dreams were coming true."

Those dreams were taken away the day his best friend, Smarr, responded to that domestic dispute call at an apartment near Georgia Southwestern State University's Campus.

Though he didn't need to, Smith responded as well, to back up Smarr.

Both Johnson and Smarr's mother said the pain they felt that day is still as strong one year later.

"He's the most important person in this world to me, and he's gone," Janice Smarr said of her son.

The two officers graduated the police academy together on December 7, 2012 -- exactly four years prior to that fateful day.

"They were always roommates, best friends, best drinking buddies," Smarr said of the two officers.

They were always together, even in some of their last moments.

Body cam video released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed both officers running after the suspect, who police identified as Minquell Lembrick.

After a short foot chase, Officer Smarr was shot.

Police said Lembrick shot Officer Smith shortly after.

However, Officer Smarr's actions turned heroic quickly, as he made the decision to help his buddy despite his injury.

"He was there for Jody, and he kept telling him, 'I got you man. I got you,'" Johnson said.

In those last moments, Smarr performed CPR on Smith. Smarr died in the process. Officer Smith made it to a hospital in Macon.

"Nick died on top of Jody," Johnson said. "These two buddies, laying there on that ground dying."

Smarr's CPR kept Smith alive for another 24 hours, long enough for his family to say goodbye and allow Smith to save others by donating his organs.

"Jody died when Nick died. Even his mother says that," said Smarr's mother. "It's just, the CPR that Nick gave him hung on to Jody's organs."

The suspected shooter took his own life the next day.

Now, a year later, both mothers say it is torture to live day to day without their sons.

"Every day's a struggle," Johnson explained. "I get up in the mornings, and I hit the floor and I pray."

"I don't think my sadness will ever go away," said Smarr. "We loved Nick so much."

In Americus, the legacies left behind by each officer remain visible in the form of black and blue ribbons, and "Back the Blue" signs on virtually every other corner and mailbox.

"I can't thank the community enough because of their love and their support and their prayers that still continue," said Johnson.

"It just tells us that this community still remembers Nick and Jody," Smarr explained.

Fellow officers at Americus PD and GSW Campus Safety continue struggling with the loss of their brothers in blue, as well.

Americus Police Officer Quintavois Sims said his work days haven't been the same since that day.

"I still feel every day that a piece of Officer Smarr is still right here with me," said Sims, who now drives Smarr's patrol car. "He was more like a big brother, a mentor."

Sims responded to the scene of the shooting one year ago.

"It still seems unreal, what I witnessed," said Sims.

One of his last memories of Smarr is the gift Smarr gave him the day he died: a Christmas DVD for Sims' 5-year-old son.

"I haven't opened it yet," Sims explained. "It just sits at home on a special stand that I have."

GSW Officer Donna Tissue also responded to the scene that day.

"He wasn't answering anybody," she said of fellow Officer Smith. "They were trying to reach him multiple times. No response on the radio."

When asked what he felt that day, GSW Campus Safety Chief Mike Tracy said, "anger, mainly. Anger."

"It's a scene I'll never forget," Officer Tissue explained.

For these officers, the difficulty came not only with losing their fellow brothers in blue, but having to keep working with no time to grieve.

"A large amount of us stayed here over 24 hours to make sure our people were straight and safe," said Chief Tracy who coordinated the effort to lock down the GSW campus while the suspected shooter was on the loose.

Now, the officers have time to grieve. It's a process they say began as they laid their brothers to rest.

"You know there's a chance that you won't come home at the end of the day," said Tissue of continuing to put on her uniform each day.

More than 20 law enforcement agencies lead a massive manhunt for the shooter for more than 24 hours after the shooting.

"I've never seen a reaction from a community or a group of law enforcement officers in my career that even came close to this," said Chief Tracy. "I've never seen anything like it."

The next day, December 8, investigators found Lembrick dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside an Americus home.

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