ATLANTA - For the second day in a row, a motorcade of Atlanta police officers left from downtown's Turner Field to honor the life of one of their own.
This time, the motorcade went to the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, where hundreds attended the funeral for 40-year-old Atlanta Officer Shawn Smiley. He was killed Nov. 3, along with 48-year-old Officer Richard Halford, when their helicopter crashed during a search for a missing child. The crash happened near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Hamilton E. Holmes drives near I-20.
According to a preliminary investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, their helicopter struck a utility pole and became entangled in power lines before crashing.
"When I got the call last week, I knew it was not going to be good," said Atlanta Police Chief George Turner.
A close friend of Smiley's said the fallen officer was thinking of his wife and three children the night of the mission that claimed his life.
"I will tell you what he was thinking. He was thinking about them. What if they were lost," Atlanta Police Department Officer Ryan Cantrell said.
Several people described Smiley as a rising star on the force, who loved to fly. The words, driven , passionate, diligent and happy were often used throughout the day to describe Smiley, who many said, lived up to his name.
"Your dad was a real hero - an actual hero, not a microwave hero," Mayor Kasim Reed told Smiley's children, ages 5, 7 and 9.
"If Shawn was here, they'd be a joke cracked somewhere," a colleague said.
Channel 2's Amanda Cook saw about two dozen of Smiley's fellow officers, city leaders and relatives.
"Shawn was a good man. Shawn was a man of business. Shawn was a committed family man. He was a father to his children and he was a father to his nephews," Loretta Browning said.
"I love my dad. He helped everyone in life. I remember his love in a very special way. I will miss you," his daughter Victoria said.
"I love you dad to the moon and back," his younger daughter said.
"I love you daddy," added Smiley's 5-year-old son.
Smiley, a Lithonia resident, had been with APD since 2010. He joined the department's air unit earlier this year, serving as a tactical flight officer, officials said.
He worked several jobs and briefly flew commercially with American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines, before going through the academy to be an Atlanta police officer in October 2010. APD Air Unit Sgt. David Tolleson said Smiley “literally stalked me” for about six months.
“Every time I turned around, there was Shawn in his blue, little recruit uniform,” he said.
The so-called stalking didn’t stop once Smiley finished with the academy and was assigned to the Department’s Zone 2 precinct. Then a spot opened in the Air Unit, which meant “hundreds and hundreds of officers came through my office to interview,” Tolleson said.
Smiley was chosen, something that was unheard of for an officer so early in their career, Tolleson said. He served as a tactical flight officer, commonly known as a spotter. Smiley’s flight last Saturday was his third with the air unit.
Officials said Smiley and his colleague, Halford, were the second and third Atlanta police officers killed in the line of duty this year.
Halford, of Lithia Springs, joined the APD in May 1986. He had been with the air unit for more than 16 years, serving as a pilot. Halford also has served in APD’s Zone 4 precinct, the motors and DUI units. He is survived by his former wife, and a 21-year-old daughter, according to Atlanta police officials. Dignitaries and public safety officers from around Georgia and the southeast were among the hundreds,
who honored Halford at his funeral Friday at Jackson Memorial Baptist Church in southwest Atlanta.
Chief Turner commended both officers for their hard work and valor as not only police officers, but as good men.
Memorial funds have been set up to help their families. Donations will be accepted at any Wells Fargo bank location for the Officer Richard Halford Memorial Fund and/or the Officer Shawn Smiley Memorial Fund.