Officers remembered as men of service

Published 8:13 pm Saturday, September 29, 2018

James Kevin White wasn’t about to give up the fight.

He was serving with the Mississippi National Guard in Iraq when his convoy rolled over a roadside bomb, flinging shrapnel into his knee and tearing at his face. The wounds were serious, and the Army gave Lincoln County’s White a chance to go home.

“He said, ‘No,” said White’s sister, Lisa White of Vicksburg. “He was still able to walk and fight, and that’s what he was gonna do. He wasn’t going to give up, or take an easy way out. He stayed, throughout his tour.”

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White, 35, came home from the war and went straight into law enforcement, and he served the community in that role for the rest of his life, until his death in the line of duty in Brookhaven Saturday morning. He’d been in the Guard since he was 17, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the late J.C. White Jr., a military veteran, and serving the law was just the next step.

“He just wanted things to be right. He wanted to make a difference,” his sister said. “He lived and breathed law enforcement — he’d have given me a ticket for going 5 miles over the speed limit. I wasn’t safe. Nobody was.”

White got into law enforcement through communications, working as a dispatcher for the Mississippi Highway Patrol. He went to the academy, but the knee injury from Iraq forced him to drop out. He started a family — his boys, 8-year-old J.C. and 7-year-old Lee, go to school at Enterprise Attendance Center, their father’s alma mater — and put law enforcement on hold as long as he could.

But service brought him back. He worked as a deputy for the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office from 2016-2018.

“He was a good officer, and he loved law enforcement,” said Lawrence County Sheriff Lessie Butler. He remembers White’s attention to detail. “His uniform had to be just about perfect,” he said.

Cpl. Brandon Fortenberry with the Mississippi Highway Patrol knew White about 10 years, and the two talked often when both were out on the patrol, even when they were no longer working in the same agency.

“He was always a go-getter. He was not one to turn back, he always had a leader’s mindset,” Fortenberry said. “He was always the one I could trust to come back up me up on those late-night shifts. I could depend on him being there for me.”

White’s sister said he loved his boys, loved her own children. His passing has left an emptiness in the hearts of his family, who are coming together from across the South to mourn him.

“I don’t know how I feel,” she said. “I don’t know what I think. I just don’t know.”

The other Brookhaven officer lost Saturday was also raised with a heart of service.

“When Zach was growing up, we told him, ‘Whatever you want to do — do whatever makes you happy,’” said Janie Stogner, owner of Janie’s Pastry Shop. “We told him, ‘That’s what you go for.’”

What made Lincoln County’s Zach Moak, 31, happy was service.

So, he went for it.

Stogner’s nephew became a law enforcement officer, serving as a reserve deputy with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, a part-time policeman with the Wesson Police Department and finally going full time with the Brookhaven Police Department. He was a servant of the law, and a servant of men, and he was carrying out that service when he died in the line of duty shortly before 5 a.m. Saturday.

“He’s died a hero, trying to protect and take care of our town, and people need to know that,” Stogner said. “He put everybody first — everybody came before him. He never done for himself. We’ve lost somebody real special.”

Moak was a 2006 graduate of Enterprise Attendance Center, a capable football player who helped the Yellow Jackets make the playoffs. Former principal Shannon Eubanks said his entire class was full of service-minded youth.

“One of those graduates is in the U.S. Marines, several became teachers, others were in nursing — Zach was in a close-knit group in a service class,” he said. “He was a very likable guy, just a good guy — a quiet kid, didn’t cause any problems. He’s going to be greatly missed by the community.”

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said Moak got his start in law enforcement by going through the law enforcement academy and serving in the reserve deputy program.

“He was a super-nice guy who loved working in law enforcement. Dedicated to his job,” Rushing said. “You could always depend on him to work the details. He loved his job.”

Moak moved on to Wesson, where his boss was chief Chad O’Quinn.

“We enjoyed him being a part of our family in Wesson,” O’Quinn said. “I was happy for him when he was able to pursue a full-time career in law enforcement. He will be dearly missed by us all.”

Pike County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Blake went through training with Moak, whom he regarded as a brother.

“Best man I ever knew,” Blake said. “He treated everybody with respect, no matter who you were or what your background was. That didn’t change him. When we got into law enforcement together, we both decided we’d give people the chance to change. Whoever steps up on the BPD midnight shift has some massive shoes to fill.”

Moak’s father is Marshall Moak, and his mother is Vicki Nations Moak, who runs the Enterprise Drive Inn. His brother, Christopher Moak, lives in Natchez.

Vicki Moak said her son got started in law enforcement as an auxiliary officer working security at football games. He signed up for police academy and was accepted — before he told his mother.

“I think he thought I’d try to talk him out of it,” she said. “I just said, ‘Is this where your heart is? You’ll have a lot coming at you, and I just want you to be prepared.’ He said, ‘I know, momma,’ and he loved every minute of it. When he was able to help someone, he felt good about it.”

Vicki Moak, her face dried from a Saturday long with tears, recalled her son’s baptism.

“I know where he’s at right now, and that gives me peace,” she said.