FORSYTH, Ga. — As the first rain in months ended, dozens of community members gathered outside a local funeral home Oct. 1 to honor first responders.
Helicopters and apparatus from various public safety agencies dotted the front lawn of McDonald Funeral Home in Cumming, as children and parents climbed aboard and chatted with operators.
Officials at the memorial ceremony recognized those in public safety who had fallen in the U.S. over the past year.
When the name of Forsyth County Deputy Spencer Englett was read, everyone stood. Ashley, his widow, and family members were present. Englett served with the Sheriff’s Office for two years before he collapsed and died during a training exercise in Pickens County in April.
“This annual event is a wonderful opportunity to see the outpouring of support Forsyth County citizens have for the law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm’s way daily to protect us and keep our community safe,” Forsyth County Commission Chairwoman Laura Semanson said. “This year was particularly touching, as we paused to remember one of our own, Deputy Spencer Englett, who was among those who made the ultimate sacrifice earlier this year.”
Paul Holbrook with McDonald & Son Funeral Home, has been coordinating the event since its inception four years ago.
“All you see is the negative about police officers in the news, and being married to an officer, I think they need more acknowledgement and recognition,” Holbrook said.
Participation and attendance for the annual event continues to grow, Holbrook said.
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman said those in law enforcement appreciate gestures of goodwill from the community.
“Every year that we do more and more events in Forsyth County we see again and again citizens and how much support they give public safety,” he said. “In today’s world in what we see in newspapers and what we see on television, along with the scrutiny law enforcement takes day in and day out, it is refreshing to first responders to see a community that rallies around them and supports them. Forsyth does that every day. It’s a unique place to be a first responder.”
State Court Judge Leslie Abernathy-Maddox shared her vivid memories of June 6, 2014 when a gunman, donning body armor and a gas mask, laid siege to the building. She said she witnessed members of the sheriff’s office “run toward imminent danger without hesitation” and described how courthouse personnel ran toward “rapid gun fire” while most of the people in the courthouse were “absolutely paralyzed with fear.”
A three-minute gunfight ended with the gunman, Dennis Marx, dead. Deputy Daniel Rush, first confronted Marx and was shot twice in the leg. Marx was supposed to be at the courthouse to face 11 felony charges from 2011.
“There is so much sacrifice that goes in on the part of our first responders as they answer their calling in their field,” Abernathy-Maddox remarked. “This calling leaves no room for selfishness.”
In recognition of their service to the community, the funeral home is providing funeral services to first responders free of charge, Holbrook said, adding that the financial burden of those services would not have to be of concern to the families at a difficult time.