Even at his funeral, the beaming smile of Gwinnett County Officer Antwan Toney could not be suppressed.
It was as much a part of his daily uniform as his badge, and just as real.
That smile has helped family members and colleagues get through the difficult days following Toney’s death Saturday afternoon. Remembered for the rapport he was able to establish with most everyone, criminals included, he never got the chance to engage his alleged killer, 18-year-old Tafarhee Maynard.
The 30-year-old officer was ambushed, shot four times by the teen, who then escaped into the woods and remained on the run for some 44 hours before he was shot and killed in a confrontation with two Gwinnett officers.
On Wednesday, mourners packed a Lawrenceville megachurch and lined the streets and highways along his funeral procession to express their gratitude for a life selflessly lived.
“He wasn’t just my brother in blue, he was my brother outside of work,” said Officer Martele Smith, who met Toney three years ago when both were in training. “Anything I planned, he was always there. Anything he planned, I was always there.”
He recalled Toney’s playfulness — the karate kicks in the South precinct parking lot, his unmistakable laugh. But when it came to policing, he was all business. “Today was a good day to do some work” was Toney’s mantra, repeated daily, Smith said.
“Even when off work, we’d talk about work,” he said.
A career in law enforcement had been his dream since childhood. Toney’s eldest sister, Carla Johnson, recalled him playing with his miniature police cars as a kid in Tustin, California, where much of the family still lives.
“He never lost that childlike audacity,” said Johnson, describing their relationship as “Lincoln on a penny. Stuck together and brown.”
She was on the phone with her brother when he got the call reporting a suspicious vehicle near Shiloh Middle School in Snellville. The next call Johnson received was from Toney’s superior, telling her there had been a shooting.
Just one week earlier, Toney summoned the family to Las Vegas to celebrate his 30th birthday.
“In true Antwan fashion it was big, it was bold, and it was Vegas,” Johnson said.
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Memories like that will always bring a smile, but it was her brother’s example that Johnson said will sustain her family as they mourn the loss of their linchpin.
“I won’t give up on my dreams because you never did,” she said.
For Toney’s other family, the loss is nearly as staggering. A born leader, according to his fellow officers, he spoke often about his desire to one day become chief of police. Smith, Toney often told his friend, would be assistant chief.
“He always told me, every day, ‘I’ve got your back,’ ” Smith said.
Smith was working an incident on Ronald Reagan Parkway Saturday when he heard his friend’s voice over the police radio, telling the dispatcher he had been shot and needed an ambulance.
Officer Ryan Walsh was the other officer on the scene. At Wednesday’s service, he admitted discomfort with public speaking. Like most people in law enforcement, he is reluctant to show any vulnerability.
But Toney could bring down anyone’s guard, creating a scene of raw, heartfelt emotion as Walsh, surrounded by colleagues from the south precinct, fought back tears as he memorialized their friend.
“It broke our hearts to lose you, you didn’t go alone,” said Walsh, reading from a poem. “Because part of us went with you, the day God called you home.”
Maj. Everett Spellman said Toney was a positive influence to his fellow officers, “a stone soldier.”
“When Officer Toney walked out that door, there was no hatred in his heart,” Spellman said. “He didn’t fight because he hated the suspects. He fought because he loved the community that was behind him.”
Smith said Toney knew how to to talk to a suspect. His sister credited his natural empathy, coupled with an earnest desire to “earn the trust of the citizens he served.”
Those citizens will never know what’s been lost with Toney’s death, Walsh said.
But they were plenty grateful, demonstrated by the hundreds of people who lined up for miles along the funeral procession route.
Mary Anne Supic, of Dacula, heard Johnson’s eulogy and felt compelled to join the throng on Buford Drive as they awaited the hearse carrying Toney’s flag-draped coffin.
“This country needs solidarity right now,” she said. “I think there’s great unity today for someone who deserves our gratitude.”
Wednesday was hard, Smith said, and the grief won’t subside anytime soon.
“It’ll be hard not seeing you at roll call,” he said, speaking to Toney. “It’ll be hard not hearing your voice, ‘242 Bravo, Badge 1808.’ “
“But we’ll always remember that smile,” Smith continued. “We won’t forget it.”
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