SMITHS STATION, Ala. — Citizens in an eastern Alabama city are grieving after their mayor died on Friday. And they are angry at the circumstances that led to his death.
“I can confirm he took his own life,” Jones told the television station.
Officials said Copeland turned onto Lee Road 275 north of Yarbroughs Crossroads and pulled over. When he exited his vehicle, he produced a handgun and shot himself, WTVM reported.
The posts included photos of Copeland, a pastor of the First Baptist Church in nearby Phenix City and a husband and father of three, in women’s clothing and makeup, according to the news outlet. According to 1819 News, Copeland posted pictures and memes in an alter ego, “Brittini Blaire Summerlin, a transgender woman and said that the persona helped him “relieve stress.”
Copeland responded to the online story during a Wednesday evening service at his church and said he was the subject of an internet attack, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.
“The article is not who or what I am,” Copeland told his congregation, according to the newspaper. “Yes, I have taken pictures with my wife in the privacy of our home in an attempt at humor because I know I’m not a handsome man nor a beautiful woman, either. I apologize for any embarrassment caused by my private and personal life that has (become public). This will not cause my life to change, this will not waver my devotion to my family, serving my city, serving my church.
“I’m thankful for the grace of God ... I have nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of things that were said were taken out of context.”
Jeff Poor, editor-in-chief of 1819 News, did not comment on the story but sent condolences in a statement to AL.com.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Smiths Station, the parishioners of First Baptist Church of Phenix City and the victims and family of Mayor Copeland,” Poor wrote to the news outlet.
Cam Ward, director of Alabama Pardons and Paroles, said that Copeland’s death was “so incredibly sad.”
“We live in a society where many people are going through so much. Regardless of decisions we may disagree with we should always love our fellow man as the Bible teaches us. I know first hand,” Ward tweeted. “A lot of folks reading his story should look in the mirror.”
Jamie Lowe, chairperson of the county’s Democratic party, called Copeland “the backbone” of the town.
“We condemn, in the strongest terms, the use of discriminatory and hateful rhetoric to target the personal lives of individuals -- be they public or private citizens,” Lowe said, according to AL.com. “The practice of demonizing each because of personal life choices must end because it has very real and life-altering consequences.”
Copeland attended Smith Station High School and graduated from Auburn University with a hotel and management degree, according to the city’s website. He also operated the Country Market in Salem.
He served on the Lee County Board of Education and was elected mayor of Smiths Station in 2016. Copeland was reelected in 2020, AL.com reported.
Copeland received widespread recognition and praise for his response to a tornado that severely damaged the small community and killed 23 people, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.
Leah Nelson, research director at Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, called Copeland’s death “devastating.”
“This man by the accounts I read was a good mayor who led his town through a terrible time,” Nelson tweeted. “Blowing up his private life, in this environment, was a cruel decision.”
“Regardless of what he did or didn’t do, he was still a person. With feelings,” one person wrote on social media, according to AL.com. “I hope you never have to feel what he felt in those moments before he made that decision that he felt was necessary to escape this life. Prayers for this community that still have hearts, and prayers for the family of Bubba Copeland.”
“I rarely if ever post, but Bubba Copeland was a childhood friend. He didn’t deserve the public shaming he received. None of us are perfect,” another post read. “His life didn’t have to end this way.”
“I witnessed a good man be publicly ridiculed and crucified over the last few days … to the point that he just took his own life today,” DiChiara wrote.
Note: If you or someone you know is thinking of harming themselves, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free support via the Lifeline by dialing 988. For more about risk factors and warning signs, visit the organization’s official website.