Leading the caisson with Hall County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Nicolas Dixon to his resting place, Capt. Brad Rounds rode with his wife and his three daughters out of Free Chapel from the Thursday service.
“As soon as we made that turn onto Browns Bridge (Road) and they saw just the immense crowd of support — the flags, all the police officers — they cried from that point all the way down to the Memorial Park cemetery,” Rounds said.
Law enforcement from all over Georgia and some from out-of-state agencies lined the streets to honor the 28-year-old Dixon, the deputy with the big grin and bigger heart.
“They said, ‘We will never, ever forget this,’ and that’s important, and I don’t want them to forget it,” Rounds said of his family.
It’s been almost a century since a Hall County law enforcement agency has grappled with an officer gunned down in the line of duty. Ret. Gainesville Police Capt. Chad White said two Lula policemen, Jack Bryan and Henry Martin, were killed March 8, 1923.
Before Bryan and Martin was William Jefferson Dorsey, a Hall County deputy shot Feb. 25, 1920.
“I was hoping that while I was sheriff I would never, ever ever see that,” Sheriff Gerald Couch said during Monday’s press conference on the shooting.
Dixon was shot to death in an exchange of gunfire in Gainesville Sunday night after pulling over a car near Jesse Jewell Parkway and engaging in a foot pursuit with four suspects. Police have said the car was stolen, and a preliminary investigation has shown a pawn shop burglary in which a large number of firearms were stolen is connected.
Hector Garcia-Solis, 17, who is alleged to be the gunman, was wounded in the shootout and hospitalized.
Garcia-Solis, London Clements, Brayan Omar Cruz, and Eric Edgardo Velazquez, all 17, have been charged with felony murder.
“Once the theft pursuit ensued with the offenders, (Dixon) was right on top of it. He was hunting those bad guys down. … If Deputy Dixon hadn’t have found that offender, there’s no telling how many other police officers or deputy sheriffs’ lives would be in danger that night because they were still out there armed. I think if Deputy Dixon hadn’t encountered the one shooter, then I think we could have (had) several victims, law enforcement victims there that night,” Rounds said.
Though the week has been tough on all law enforcement, especially those wearing the same badge as Dixon, Rounds said he hopes Dixon’s memory will give deputies “more fuel to go out there and fight the good fight.”
“Even though we lost our brother, he would want us to go out there and fight even harder against the bad guys. That’s what I’m trying to instill in these guys right now,” Rounds said.
The area surrounding Highland Avenue, where the shooting occurred, falls outside of Gainesville’s jurisdiction, while the businesses along Jesse Jewell Parkway are watched by Gainesville Police. No matter the color of the uniform, Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said the officers back each other up.
“I think that’s what affected our officers is they work day in and day out with Dixon in that area and were some of the first officers on scene when he gave an ‘officer down’ call,” Parrish said.
Some of the Gainesville Police officers working the same shift as Dixon were allowed some time off “to kind of get mentally back in the game,” Parrish said. Other officers covered these shifts so that Dixon’s colleagues at Gainesville Police could also attend the funeral.
“This is something that we don’t expect anybody to ever get over, but we hope that they are able to honor Blane by getting back into the fight and doing what they swore they’d do,” Parrish said.
Parrish and Rounds said counseling services and other assistance programs have been made available for officers.
“We want them to talk about it. We want them to get it out. We want them to know that crying is normal. We want them to know that being upset is normal, even officers have second thoughts sometimes about if this is the right work for them. Those are all normal thoughts,” Rounds said.
It will be tough for a while, Rounds said, but it will ultimately draw members of the department closer together.
“This just strengthens the bond that we have in this police brotherhood that we have because we have got to have each other’s backs. There’s no one out there that’s going to save us or that’s going to watch over us except ourselves,” he said.