Officer Nicholas Smarr laid to rest with honors by shaken Americus

December 11, 2016, AMERICAS: Americus police officer Nicholas Ryan Smarr arrives by honor guard to his funeral service at the Georgia Southwestern State University Storm Dome on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Americas. Officer Smarr and Georgia Southwestern State University campus police officer Jody Smith were killed responding to a domestic dispute.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
December 11, 2016, AMERICAS: Americus police officer Nicholas Ryan Smarr arrives by honor guard to his funeral service at the Georgia Southwestern State University Storm Dome on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Americas. Officer Smarr and Georgia Southwestern State University campus police officer Jody Smith were killed responding to a domestic dispute. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The town of Americus in South Georgia was in deep mourning Sunday as it bid farewell to one of two local police officers killed in the line of duty last week.

Hundreds lined the streets leading to the cemetery as a horse-drawn carriage carried the body of Americus Officer Nicholas Smarr to his final resting place.

Smarr and his best friend, Jody Smith, an officer with Georgia Southwestern State University, were responding to a domestic violence call Wednesday when Minquell Lembrick opened fire on them, according to police. Smarr was pronounced dead the same day and Smith passed away a day later in a local hospital. Lembrick died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound following a manhunt and standoff.

Speaking at the funeral, Americus Police Chief Mark Scott joked that you could tell Smith and Smarr were best friends because they took pleasure in posting embarrassing photos of each other on Facebook.

He also recalled how Smarr, after he was shot, died performing CPR on his wounded friend. They were found together when police arrived, he said.

The deaths of the two young men has struck the small town to its core, said residents and community members who attended Smarr’s funeral service.

Brinda Middleton, longtime secretary to Scott, spoke highly of Smarr.

“He was the most respectful, it was always ‘Miss Brinda,’ you know, one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet,” she said. “He never had anything negative to say about anybody. He’s just a real sweetheart and we’re going to miss him terribly.”

Middleton said Smith and Smarr’s were the department’s first officer fatalities in many years.

“We’ve always been a close knit family, I think it will bring us a lot closer,” Middleton said of the tragedy.

The officers’ deaths continue what law enforcement say is a disturbing trend this year of lawmen being killed in the line of duty with firearms.

Smarr is the sixth law enforcement officer fatally shot in Georgia this year, double the total killed by guns in the previous two years combined. When Smith died the following day, he became the seventh officer killed by gunfire in 2016.

There has been a 66 percent increase nationwide in the fatal shootings of officers from this same time in 2015, said Steve Groeninger of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. So far 64 officers have been gunned down in the line of duty this year. No more than 50 officers have been fatally shot in one year since 2011.

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George Saratsiotis, a tailor and proprietor of George’s Menswear, said the two were regular customers of his.

“These (are) wonderful young men, and it’s not fair for them to go so young,” said Saratsiotis, who settled in Americus 43 years ago after emigrating from Greece. “The atmosphere in town is very sad. Everybody is talking to each other and trying to help each other right now … We got a beautiful town here.”

Americus resident Tonya Enlow, who works in manufacturing, said in a place where everyone is connected through family or friends somehow, Smith’s and Smarr’s deaths have taken a toll.

“They were doing their job and it was uncalled for, it was unnecessary and stuff like that needs to be stopped,” said Enlow.

Sheila Newton’s daughter is best friends with Smarr’s girlfriend, Rachel Harrod. She said she only met Smarr a few times but saw that he made Harrod very happy. Smarr had been working to save up for a trip to Disney World for the two of them when he was killed.

“You could tell that Rachel, I mean, that was her person,” Newton said. “My heart just breaks for her.”

Funeral arrangements for Smith had not been announced as of Sunday.