AMERICUS, GA (WALB) - Wednesday, December 7, 2016, was a day that changed lives and history in Americus forever.
Just after 10 a.m. that morning, Georgia Southwestern State University was placed on lockdown due to a shooting off campus, near the south side of the Griffin Bell Golf Course.
GSW's Facebook page reported that two police officers were injured: GSW Public Safety officer Jody Smith, 26, and Americus Police officer Nicholas Smarr, 25.
Americus Police responded to a domestic dispute call around 9:30 Wednesday morning, according to Police Chief Mark Scott.
"One of our officers responded, along with an officer from Georgia Southwestern who heard the call responded as a backup. The officer encountered a suspect outside an apartment where both officers were shot," said Chief Scott at the time. "The Americus officer died, while the GSW officer was flown to Macon in critical condition."
The suspect, Minquell Lembrick, 32, was on the run and a manhunt involving over 20 law enforcement agencies from around the area was underway.
A reward totaling $70,000 was offered to anyone with information that would lead to Lembrick's arrest.
Just after Wednesday's shooting, Lembrick posted a short Facebook live video. His page has since been shut down.
Lembrick had a lengthy criminal record. According to the Georgia Dept. of Corrections, he served two stints in prison between 2003 and 2012.
In 2003 he was sentenced to five years on a false imprisonment conviction, followed by a two-year sentence in 2009 on charges of criminal interference with government property.
According to the Sumter County Sheriff's Office, since 2009 Lembrick had been arrested on multiple charges including aggravated stalking, theft by taking, obstruction, reckless driving, battery, and probation violation.
At the time of Wednesday's shooting, Lembrick had an active warrant for kidnapping issued by Americus Police.
Wednesday evening, the Americus community gathered downtown across from the police station for a vigil. The message that night was one of hope and healing.
Those who attended lit candles and sang songs, expressing their thanks to all first responders.
Leaders prayed for Jody Smith who at the time was still in the hospital.
A BREAK IN THE CASE
The next morning, Thursday, December 8, police received a break in the manhunt.
Law enforcement received a tip that Lembrick was located at a house in Americus.
Dozens of law enforcement officers gathered near Allen Street and MLK at a location where they believed Lembrick was barricaded.
When officials arrived on scene they tried to see if anybody would respond within the residence.
Once authorities entered the home, they found Lembrick with what appeared to be a self-inflicted wound.
Several people were escorted out of the area as crews were on the scene.
A blanket of relief covered law enforcement and the citizens of Sumter County after a 26-hour manhunt.
Late Thursday afternoon, Georgia Southwestern State University announced that Officer Smith succumbed to his injuries at a hospital in Macon.
GSW released the following statement after the school was notified that Smith had passed:
Soon after the shooting, the family of Nick Smarr revealed heartbreaking details about the final moments of his life.
In a Facebook post, Smarr's uncle, Michael Waters, wrote that after his nephew was shot, he ran to aid of Officer Smith. He said Smarr, in his final moments, rolled Officer Smith from his face-down position and began performing CPR.
Tragically, while Officer Smarr was trying to save his friend, he died from his injuries.
Waters said his nephew was found lying across his best friend and fellow officer who at the time was still alive with critical injuries.
While his family is heartbroken, they know their loved one died a hero.
Both Smith and Smarr worked under Pete Smith at the Sumter County Sheriff's Office.
"Great personalities, loved being together. I mean they laughed and joked and hunted and fished and just wherever you saw one you saw both of them," said Smith.
The two graduated from the police academy together and although most recently they worked apart, they still lived under the same roof.
The two even had plans to hold their weddings around the same time.
THE 911 CALL
An Americus woman called 911 that morning to complain that Miquell Lembrick was in her home and wouldn't leave. She said he had not gotten violent, but he was screaming, and she was worried about the safety of her little girl.
About eight minutes later, he opened fire on two officers. "Oh no. He shot the police. He shot one of them," the caller said.
Apparently, the officer to whom the woman was referring was Georgia Southwestern State University Safety Officer Jody Smith. Americus Police Officer Nick Smarr was dispatched to that domestic violence call, but Smith also went to the scene to help his longtime friend and actually arrived first.
Investigators say Lembrick shot both of them while the caller watched from inside her home.
At one point during the call, the dispatcher said, "They're not moving?"
The caller replied, "One of them, he's laying beside him. He's trying to help him, but the officer, the one on the ground, he's not moving."
We're told even though Officer Smarr was mortally wounded, he rolled Officer Smith onto his back and tried to perform CPR on him. Smarr was found dead lying on top of Smith. Smith died Thursday afternoon at a hospital in Macon.
You can listen to the entire unedited 911 audio below. WARNING: Some may find the audio difficult to listen to.
On December 11, the city of Americus was painted blue as a procession for Officer Nicholas Smarr traveled through the city. Less than a mile away from where he took his last breath, friends, family and the law-enforcement community gathered to remember Smarr.
Following the service in Georgia Southwestern State University's Storm Dome, a horse-drawn caisson carried Smarr's body to his final resting place.
The streets were lined with people honoring the officer and his last patrol around the city that he served.
Hundreds of citizens and law enforcement officers paid their last respects to Officer Smarr during the three-mile journey, with the sounds of sirens, visions of blue lights and over 100 patrol cars from different counties across the state, honoring a brother in blue: a fitting tribute for a fallen hero.
Three days later on December 14, Officer Jody Smith was laid to rest.
The Georgia Southwestern campus was filled with thousands of family, friends and police officers throughout the state to pay tribute to Officer Jody Smith.
Following the services, a horse-drawn caisson carried Smith's body around the very campus he once patrolled as community members watched in silence. Many local businesses closed their doors and made their way to the campus.
As the caisson made its way to the front of the campus, Smith's body was carried into the hearse, that would drive him through the city to his final place of rest.
A horse-drawn caisson carried Smith's body around the very campus he once patrolled as community members watched in silence. (Source: WALB)
HONORING THE FALLEN
Americus Police honored Smarr by hosting their first 'Coffee with a Cop' on Smarr's birthday, April 5.
Chief Mark Scott said it was a chance for people to meet with officers, get to know them, and raise any concerns they might have.
"I think that the tragedy that we've all had to go through has brought us together as a community," said Chief Scott. "It's opened up forums for us to talk about a lot of issues that weren't being talked about before."
Later that month, the annual Special Olympics Spring Games in Sumter County hosted a torch run in memory of the fallen officers.
"The most important thing is to honor these two young men who gave their lives to protect you and I," said Carl Willis, an adaptive physical education teacher in Sumter County Schools.
Three officers ran a relay around the 400-meter track at Americus-Sumter County High School, passing a torch at each hand-off as participants and volunteers looked on.
On April 27, Georgia Southwestern State University officially renamed the building housing the Department of Public Safety, the "Nicholas Smarr & Jody Smith Memorial Building."
As the Department of Public Safety building's new name was unveiled, the officers' families looked on with pride.
"As long as we honor their legacy and the lives that they chose to live, they will not be forgotten," said Chief Scott.
"By naming this building the 'Nicholas Smarr and Jody Smith Memorial Building,' we ensure their sacrifice will not be swept away by time or simply forgotten," said GSW's Public Safety Director Chief Mike Tracy.
An annual golf tournament took on a new meaning for Americus and the Sumter County Sheriff's Office. Organizers decided the 30th Annual Sumter County Sheriff's Charity Golf Tournament would honor Officers Smith and Smarr.
Aaron Cosby of Sumter County came up with the "Back the Badge" license plate idea, after officers Jody Smith and Nicholas Smarr were shot and killed.
The two officers were honored by President Donald Trump at the 36th Annual National Police Officers Memorial Service. Their names were also added to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C.
Trees were planted in honor of the fallen officers on the GSW campus. The Planting Brotherhood Project was started in 2016 by police officers from Dalton to honor Georgia law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Members of the Dalton Police Department planted the trees across from GSW's public safety building.
In November, the Smarr and Smith Foundation donated more than $10,000 worth of tasers, cartridges, batteries and holsters to the Sumter County Sheriff's Office, all in memory of Officers Smarr and Smith.
An anonymous donation of $5,500 to South Georgia Technical College led to the creation of a scholarship honoring the two officers. Both Smith and Smarr attended the school's Criminal Justice Program.
The Smarr and Smith Foundation organized its first ever Poker Run in November. The group raised over $1,200 to give back to law enforcement in Sumter County.
While the two best friends may be gone, it's clear the city of Americus and the South Georgia community will never let their sacrifice be forgotten.
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