The hardest week — Brookhaven spends week in mourning
The hardest week in 2018 started in Brookhaven early last Saturday, around 5 a.m.
That’s when every law enforcement officer in the county, and some from farther away than that, rushed to a residence on North Sixth Street, where an earlier report of “shots fired” descended into catastrophe with the deaths of Brookhaven Police Department patrolman James Kevin White, 35, and Cpl. Zach Moak, 31.
Most Brookhaven and Lincoln County residents have spent the week in a misty-eyed daze, with regular business put on hold, pushed back, forgotten for a while, as they waved flags of red, white, blue and black, made themselves available for two viewings, two funerals, two long motorcades of honor and two burials to lay the slain heroes to rest.
“They never know what the day will hold, but they embrace their responsibility with great passion and commitment to duty,” said Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox, speaking at the funeral service for Moak Thursday. “Know this, our community is strong. We come together in times of tragedy. We will get through this together as only a family can and in so doing we will honor the memory of our fallen (heroes).”
The full story of what happened just before dawn on Saturday is not yet known, but Brookhaven Police Chief Kenneth Collins has offered a few details on how the events unfolded.
White was first on the scene, and he spent around three minutes calmly reporting the details he found there — a white Cadillac Escalade, bullet holes in the passenger-side door, blood in the driver’s seat. He then made a report of “shots fired,” and Moak, arriving in no time, radioed “33 is down,” and “I’m hit, too,” before making his last transmission, in which he called the dispatcher by the city’s name and said, “I’m going down, Brookhaven.”
At Moak’s funeral Thursday, Collins said Moak exchanged shots with a suspect while trying to pull White out of the line of fire and into a safe position.
“He engaged the suspect even when he was mortally wounded. He did not think of himself,” Collins said. “There is no love greater than to give your life for another.”
Both officers were transported to King’s Daughters Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead.
Police arrested a wounded 25-year-old Marquis Aaron Flowers, of 426 East Independence St., at the scene and transported him to a Jackson hospital, where he remains in treatment, and custody. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which is handling the case for BPD, has declined to comment on Flowers’ condition.
So far, Flowers has not been charged with any crime, though he has an outstanding warrant from Adams County for theft charges. Investigators have said Flowers is the only suspect in the case.
MBI has been tight-lipped about the case throughout the week, releasing no updates on the investigation and bringing no charges against anyone. At least two other individuals were arrested at the scene early Saturday, but police say they were questioned and released.
It remains unknown who shot up the Escalade before they arrived or whose blood was found on the seat.
A suspect long wanted by the department was arrested Tuesday. Lattrick Williams was apprehended at a residence at 1184 Friendship Road in McComb Tuesday afternoon in a sting conducted by Brookhaven police, with assistance from the sheriff’s offices in Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties; Rankin County’s K9 task force; the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the federal ATF and U.S. Marshals.
It is unknown if Williams’ arrest is related to Saturday’s fatal shootings.
“There’s 100,000 things he’s charged with,” Collins said.
The community had its first chance to grieve together Sunday night, when hundreds attended a candle-light vigil for the fallen officers in front of Brookhaven police headquarters. White’s black cruiser, “B-33,” and Moak’s silver patrol, “B-32,” were parked on the front lawn and covered with flowers and wreathes by the visiting mourners. Dignitaries spoke and sang and comforted the circling crowd, while Moak’s and White’s families stood up front in the place of honor, washed in soft, blue light.
The services began Tuesday. A police escort brought White’s body from Riverwood Family Funeral Services to Easthaven Baptist Church, where visitation was held that evening. Lincoln County volunteer firefighters used up their sick and vacation days from work to manage the church’s big parking lot, which filled up quickly. The house of worship filled up again Wednesday morning, when Gov. Phil Bryant spoke at White’s funeral.
“It’s absolutely encouraging to see such a great response from the community,” said George Ridge, pastor of River of Life Church in Brookhaven. “It’s encouraging to see the community show respect for those who put their lives on the lines every day for us. Were it not for people like Kevin, who will give themselves for the cause, just think of the catastrophe everything would be.”
The officer’s body left that place around noon, on its final earthly journey to Holly Springs Baptist Church out near the Lawrence County line, guarded by a mile-long motorcade of police officers from across Mississippi, from around the region, from New York City. Area residents lined the roadways to salute and shed tears as the procession came up Hwy. 51, in front of BPD headquarters, down the boulevard and across town to Nola Road, passing by hundreds ofAmerican flags along the way.
“We did the same thing last year when deputy William Durr got killed. I never expected we’d have to break out the flags again so soon,” said Brad Rushing, a service manager with Magnolia Electric Power, which used its boom trucks to hang great flags over the roadway. “When I heard about it, I was sick to my stomach, sad in my heart. But we’re here to show respect.”
Later that afternoon, the process started anew as the escort bearing Moak’s body rolled the short distance from Brookhaven Funeral Home to Easthaven. The volunteers came back as the sun dropped down, and area residents returned to the church for a second round of mourning.
Moak’s body made the final trip Thursday at noon, following a similar route through Brookhaven and down Hwy. 583 to Wellman Baptist Church. The students at Enterprise Attendance Center — where Moak graduated in 2006, and White graduated in 2002 — were waiting with flags to do him honor, lining the roadside in front of the school to watch one of their own pass by.
“Enterprise is like a family,” said Enterprise senior Brooke Brister. “Once a Jacket, always a Jacket.”