Photo by Heather Middleton
By Kathy Jefcoats
Old friends in uniforms of all colors greeted each other warmly in the lobby of the church Thursday, shaking hands, embracing, exchanging small talk.
Then, they remembered why they were there, and the mood went somber and quiet. There was an awkward moment of silence, an averting of eyes. A pat on the back, and officers parted ways, wandering through the throng of sad, reflective faces.
What happened to Clayton County Sheriff's Deputy Rick Daly on July 20 could have happened to any one of them.
Daly, 55, of Zebulon, died in the line of duty, after being shot during a traffic stop. They gathered inside the massive First Baptist Church in Jonesboro to honor his memory and pay tribute to a fallen colleague.
Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough, who has been sheriff since 2009, said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support shown his department since Daly's death.
"The sheriff's offices have shown me the brotherhood of this small fraternity," he said. "They have truly been my brother. And the chiefs of police, although their fraternity is larger, also showed solidarity. We are all one blood, and that blood is blue."
About 2,000 honored Daly in a formal service befitting a man remembered as "an officer's officer" and devoted family man.
Retired Fayette County Sheriff Randall Johnson, his successor, Wayne Hannah, and other deputies attended. Johnson hired Daly's son, Toby, to his department about 10 years ago. Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer and some of his staff were there.
Local officials attending included: Clayton County Fire Chief Jeff Hood, and his command staff; Clayton County Police Chief Greg Porter, and his staff; Riverdale Police Chief Samuel Patterson; Clayton County Chief Magistrate Judge Daphne Walker; Clayton County Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin; Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield; Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley; Clayton County Assistant District Attorneys Jason Green and Luana Nolen; Clayton County Commissioners Eldrin Bell and Michael Edmondson; and former county police chief, Jeff Turner.
Prior to becoming a sheriff's deputy, Daly worked with Turner as a police officer.
Kimbrough eulogized Daly during the short ceremony, calling July 20 Clayton County's Sept. 11. Daly is the first countywide officer in Clayton to die by gunfire in the line of duty.
"Just as the day after 9-11, we were all Americans, on July 21; we all knew we were Clayton County," he said. "Clayton County is written in our hearts, and that has been demonstrated time and again. Sometimes, we forget, and it takes something like this to shake us up and show it."
Everyone stood and remained standing for about 25 minutes as family members made their way into the auditorium for a final good-bye. Daly's casket, the inside lid of which was emblazoned with a sheriff's star and his name, was closed for the last time. An American flag was draped over the top, a patriotic mantle for a hero lost in battle.
Kimbrough read a letter from Gov. Nathan Deal, which offered the hope that survivors would be able to cope by "finding strength by remembering the joy he brought to the lives of everyone who knew him."
Daly was remembered as a dedicated family man. He was the oldest of six children of Joyce Daly, of Hampton, and the late Joseph Daly. He and his wife, Cheryl, raised two children, Toby and Amber. He was enjoying his role as grandfather to four.
"He was a dutiful, dedicated son, a brother with a strong shoulder, a husband who was an able companion, a father who was a role model, a man who was what you wanted to be," said Kimbrough. "As a grandfather, he offered unconditional love to all the children in the family."
Daly was an "officer's officer," who never failed to respond to the call for help.
"The day he died, he didn't have to respond to that call," said Kimbrough. "But he answered that call. He knew it was his call, and he had to be there to support his brothers in the badge.
"Those left behind can learn from the tragedy by living life to the fullest and loving those around them. Live every day as if it is your last, because it very well could be," said Kimbrough. "None of us knew the Lord was calling Ricky home that day."
In between speakers, a pianist performed Christian hymns, such as "Rock of Ages," and "It is Well with My Soul." Two pre-recorded songs were also played, "Finally Home" and "Go Rest on That High Mountain."
The pastor of Daly's home church, Harvest Baptist, shared an inspirational message, because that is what Daly would have wanted, he said. "Toby said, 'I want you to preach the gospel, because Daddy liked preaching,'" said Joe Arthur.
Daly's funeral was also observed with the presence of the United States Honor Flag, a flag which is taken to the funerals of fallen public safety officers, and military personnel across the country, according to Miami-Dade Police Department Spokesman, Detective Alvaro Zabaleta.
The detective is a member of the board of directors of the Honor Network, the group which coordinates the flag's movements.
Zabaleta said the United States Honor Flag was the flag that was flying over the Texas Statehouse on Sept. 11, 2001. He said it was later given to the Honor Network, and has since been flown in Iraq, Qatar, and Afghanistan. It is a symbol meant to honor the sacrifices public safety officers and military personnel have made, with their lives, in the line of duty.
He said it was most recently carried aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on its final flight, which ended on July 21.
"This was the first funeral it has gone to since it returned to Earth," Zabaleta said. He added that Miami Beach Police Department Officer Manuel Valdes escorted the flag, from Miami, to Jonesboro, for the funeral.
After the sermon, everyone stood to sing "Amazing Grace." Police honor guards from various law enforcement agencies filed out to line the pathway between the church and the hearse.
A bagpiper from the Georgia State Patrol played "Nearer My God To Thee," as officers accompanied the casket out of the church.
Officers held a salute as the casket rolled past, followed by Daly's widow and other relatives. The procession then meandered through the quiet residential streets of Jonesboro to Tara Boulevard for the ride south to Pike County, for burial.
-- Staff writers Curt Yeomans and Jeylin White contributed to this report.