‘This is family’ — Enterprise students pay respects to graduate, fallen officer Zach Moak

Published 4:12 pm Thursday, October 4, 2018

They didn’t know Zach Moak, not really.

Half of them weren’t even born back when he graduated in 2006.

But the students at Enterprise Attendance Center know enough to realize the slain 31-year-old Brookhaven police officer was one of them, just like them, a Southeastern Lincoln County country boy who put on the red and gold back in his day, just like they do now. So when the long motorcade of police officers and family members who escorted Moak’s body to its final peace at Wellman Baptist Church turned at the school at noon Thursday, a few hundred preteens and adolescents in grades six through 12 stepped to the roadside, raised the Star-Spangled Banner and kept honor through silence as the fallen Yellow Jacket passed before them.

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“They’re not strangers to us,” eighth-grader Rylee Watts said of Moak and patrolman James White, another Enterprise graduate who was killed alongside Moak in the line of duty Saturday. “Anybody here at Enterprise will tell you that not having been able to know them better is very upsetting. We’re all one big family here.”

The Enterprise students may not have known Moak, but Moak’s family will know them.

They started early, probably an hour before the funeral procession rolled in, with the student council spacing out along Topisaw Drive Southeast in front of the school, unfurling their U.S. flags and checking their intervals, trying to make everything perfect as a hot sun fell on their backs. 

The football field fence across the street was lettered, with blue cups stuck in the chain links to spell out “B32” and “B33,” Moak’s and White’s handles on the police department’s radio network. Hanging beside the cups was a large, blue banner bearing 58 tiny, black-ink handprints of the school’s kindergarten class, and the words, “kindergarten backs the blue — thank you B32 & B33.”

All students emerged with small flags and fanned out along the roadside, while out on the highway, a fire engine turned on its red lights and blocked the road. Soon the roar of motorcycle engines began to reach through the trees, announcing Moak’s arrival, and the motorcade bore on through to the students’ covered hearts, with only the sound of motors and tires on the road.

Some officers in the escort videoed those few hundred Yellow Jackets, others snapped salutes. Moak’s mother, Vicki Moak, rode by with her hand pressed against the glass of the passenger window, as if to reach out and feel, with her own fingers, the heavy respect that hung in the hot air.

“Enterprise is like a family,” said senior Brooke Brister. “Once a Jacket, always a Jacket.”

Sophomore Hanna Schlatre said the student body was upset when it heard one of its own had fallen in the line of duty, and students began asking teachers about how they could pay their respects to Moak when school resumed the Monday after his death.

“Everybody is grieving, but we’re all a big family, so we’ll all get through it, together,” she said. 

Junior Dustin Prather said he hopes the school’s display for Moak’s family — both blood and badge — would let them know the Enterprise community is there for them.

“Brookhaven, Enterprise, us — everybody. We’re all family,” he said.

The deaths of Moak and White made 2018 even harder for business teacher Diane Crotwell, who has already buried her husband, Monti, and fought cancer this year. She’s taught at Enterprise for 22 years, and is the only remaining faculty who taught both Moak and White, who graduated in 2002.

“My heart dropped when I heard. The first thing I did was I went out on my porch, and cried. And I prayed, too,” Crotwell said. “I’ve lost students before, and it’s never, ever easy. You never get used to it.”

Crotwell remembers Moak as a “quiet, sweet boy,” always respectful, never in trouble, a leader on the football team. This year’s Yellow Jacket squad plans to run onto the field in its game against West Lincoln tonight to the song “Time to Play the Game” by Drowning Pool — a song Moak used to rally his teammates and lead them into battle on the gridiron 12 years ago.

Crotwell also remembers White, who has two young boys attending Enterprise. Before she left school for an extended break to begin chemotherapy treatments last year, White came to her classroom and prayed with her, she said.

Enterprise Principal Terry Brister said the week has been hard on the Enterprise student body, the school’s teachers and staff and the community as a whole.

“It’s been somber, but our students have also been very determined — a determined group of kids who want to recognize, and show appreciation, for what those officers stood for and what they’ve done for us,” he said. “This is family, here at Enterprise.”