An Outpouring of Emotion for Officer Christian
"He was the essence of what Athens Clarke County deserves in their police officers," says police chief.
Mourners joined together Sunday at the Classic Center to honor Athens-Clarke County Senior Police Officer Elmer “Buddy” Christian one last time. As visitors took their seats, the building was silent, save for the somber keystrokes of a piano and the occasional sound of a camera phone snapping a picture of the stage.
The hour-long funeral for the fallen officer, shot and killed in the line of duty Tuesday, filled the Classic Center's 2,053-seat theater.
Christian's pastor of 18 years, Pastor Randy Crowe of Hull Baptist Church, joined ACC Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin on stage to speak of the man they knew well.
“Through faith in God, we will learn to cope,” said an emotional Lumpkin during the service. “He was the type of man with the character and the essence of what Athens-Clarke County deserves of their police officers.”
Lumpkin pledged long-term support for Christian's wife, Melissa, and their children, five-year-old Callie and two-year-old Wyatt.
Crowe, who read passages from Christian's own Bible, addressed the anger that many in the community may be feeling.
“How can any of us live with the fierce anger and blazing rage that we feel in our hearts,” he asked, in reference to accused gunman Jamie Hood. “Does he know the devastation that he has caused?”
Crowe, whom Christian called “Preach,” also shared stories from Buddy's life.
He explained how Christian was so enthralled when he met his future wife Melissa at a high school football game that he later backed up off the porch and tumbled down the stairs.
He shared the story of when Christian was driving 25 women from Hull Baptist Church to a neighboring church in a bus. Instead of going to Tuckston United Methodist Church as planned, he shuttled the women to the police station.
When the women called Crowe, the preacher had two words: "Keep 'em."
Crowe also explained that Christian was devoted to his family, his friends and his community. “Buddy believed in people,” he said.
University of Georgia seniors Michael Cole and Andrew Gay attended the service in their Air Force ROTC uniforms.
“I didn't know much about Buddy, or anything at all, but I know why he died and what he stood for,” Gay said.
Cole said he attended to show his support for other law enforcement officers.
“When people realize that and show up, it really shows unity within in the city,” he said.
Between speakers, members from the band Shades of Grace played the contemporary Christian songs “I Can Only Imagine,” “I'll Fly Away” and a cover of Garth Brooks' “The Dance.”
Crowe later asked the community to show their appreciation to the law enforcement officers and fire fighters in the crowd. The applause was deafening and heartfelt as nearly 2,000 people stood and thanked the public servants in the crowd.
Crowe then asked the officers to leave first. But for their steady strides down the stairs and the sniffling from many of those in the audience, the packed auditorium was absolutely silent.
“Elmer 'Buddy' Christian was an outstanding and dedicated public servant,” Lumpkin said, noting his sincere kindness and respect for others in the community. “His duty ended March 22, 2011.”