Nicholas Smarr poses with his girlfriend, Rachel Harrod, in this undated photo. Smarr, an Americus police officer, was killed when he responded to a domestic call on Wednesday. Photo: Courtesy Rachel Harrod

Second Americus officer dies after gunfire, manhunt

Alleged killer takes own life

As police from 20 agencies drew closer, Minguell Kennedy Lembrick did what so many other suspected killers before him had done.

He took a final life — his own.

Late Thursday morning, the man suspected of killing two police officers fatally shot himself.

His suicide ended an intense manhunt that began after police say he shot Nicholas Smarr, an officer with the Americus Police Department, and Jody Smith, who worked for the Georgia Southwestern State University Police Department. The two were friends and roommates.

They answered a Wednesday domestic disturbance call that quickly turned deadly. Smarr, shot in the head, died almost instantly. Smith, also shot in the head, lingered for more than a day before dying late Thursday afternoon.

The suspect, with a criminal history 32 pages long, won’t threaten anyone else, GBI director Vernon Keenan said.

“It’s over,” Keenan said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “The perpetrator is not here.”

Lembrick’s death concluded a hunt that began wide but narrowed after searchers received a tip. In the final minutes of his life, Lembrick hid in a house on the 300 block of Allen Street. Heavily armed SWAT officers approached it. A gun boomed.

Lembrick, already charged with false imprisonment, simple battery and criminal trespassing in Sumter County, had a warrant for his arrest on other charges, including kidnapping. Officials were not aware of the warrant until after the shooting, police said.

The two officers’ deaths are the latest in a grim and growing list. With their slayings, the number of Georgia officers killed this year climbs to seven. Nationwide, the 2016 death toll of police so far is now 64. Last year, and several years before that, the annual count never exceeded 50.

What the statistics don’t highlight are the two cops themselves. One was on the road to matrimony, and the other wasn’t far behind.

A community’s grief, a girlfriend’s tears

They were roommates and professional peers, united by the rent and a desire to serve.

Smith, taller and wider, with a smile to match, worked for the university department. The university community had held its collective breath following his shooting. An air ambulance had taken the fallen officer to a Macon hospital, where physicians declared him in critical condition. That only got worse.

Charles Patterson, the university’s interim president, Thursday evening confirmed a rumor already making the rounds in Sumter County.

“We have just received word that GSW Public Safety Officer Jody Smith has succumbed to his injuries and has passed away,” Patterson said in an emailed statement. “We offer our deepest condolences to his family during this very difficult time. Officer Smith was a bright, young and energetic officer, and he will be sorely missed.”

Friends said he planned to marry in May.

Rachel Harrod felt the loss, too. On a day when she should have been making final plans for her trip to Disney World, she instead visited an Americus funeral home.

The man with whom she’d planned that Florida trip — planned her life, for that matter — lay dead. The 21-year-old GSW student got in the car with her mama to plan a proper burial for Nick Smarr.

“I never met anyone who loved so much,” she said, “and loved so hard.”

They met last year. Harrod’s roommate was dating a guy who also had a roommate. Her roomie was helpless in the kitchen, so Harrod agreed to cook a meal for the four. Her roommate assured Harrod that the man who shared an apartment with her sweetie was definitely not the fellow for her. He was in law enforcement, had served in the Marines, was a lot of swagger.

After spending time with him, Harrod had to agree with her roommate. “I didn’t like him.”

But that guy, Smarr, sent her a text. Could they meet again? They did. In that meeting, he professed his love of Disney movies. He particularly liked “The Lion King,” in which a wayward son returns home to set things right. Maybe that was the cop in him, understanding that the good guys should win. Harrod gave him a closer look. She leaned toward the Disney classics like “Snow White.”

“I loved the princesses,” she said.

Loved him, too. “We talked every day – except yesterday (Wednesday).”

Police are still investigating what happened at Country Club Apartments, where Smarr and Smith met to investigate a domestic-disturbance call. For the cops, their encounter was hardly a meeting of strangers: they were friends and roommates.

After the shootings, Lembrick bolted. That set off a manhunt that only grew in scope and participants as the hours passed. So, too, did a reward for Lembrick’s arrest. At the time of his death, that amount had climbed to $70,000 — a sum comprising donations from agencies keen to see the suspect in handcuffs.

The case is hardly closed

Police are still asking questions about a lethal confrontation. The people who knew and loved a university cop are wondering about the unfairness of death — none more so, perhaps, than the woman he planned to marry.

And a nursing student is preparing to say goodbye to a guy who’d been her everything. Earlier this year, Harrod’s younger brother was killed in an auto accident. Heartbroken, she turned to her boyfriend, the macho cop and tough Marine. He handled her gently.

They were to leave Sunday for Disney World, where Harrod anticipated getting an engagement ring.

“I had a feeling about it,” she said. “I’d always dreamed of getting a ring at Disney World.”

The would-be fiancee paused, thinking of the what-if’s and why’s and what-now’s. Then: “We didn’t quite make it.”

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AJC staff writers Lauren Foreman , Raisa Habersham and Steve Burns contributed to this report.

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