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‘We’re here to show respect’: Hundreds line roadways to honor fallen officer

They pulled their big trucks onto the small gravel flat in the corner, where Nola Road splits off heading northeast from Monticello Street, right down in front of the meat market.

They were company men — workers, in dirty jeans, sweat-ringed shirts and hard-toed boots, pulled off the power lines and sent here for a job small in scale, but enormous in meaning. They strung up two American flags, the fields creased from months of storage in a box somewhere at the Magnolia Electric Power headquarters, a little tattered on the fly ends, but bright and proud and waving in the wind as the boom raised them up to fly above the gray asphalt below.

An hour later, the funeral procession carrying the body of Brookhaven policeman James Kevin White, 35, passed beneath the double Old Glories on its way to Holly Springs Baptist Church, his final place of rest.

“We did the same thing last year when deputy William Durr got killed. I never expected we’d have to break out the flags again so soon,” said Brad Rushing, a service manager with Magnolia. “When I heard about it, I was sick to my stomach, sad in my heart. But we’re here to show respect.”

Rushing and his crew were just a handful of hundreds of Brookhaven and Lincoln County residents who stepped to the roadside, pulled off their hats and covered their hearts at noon Wednesday while the procession rolled through from the service at Easthaven Baptist Church to the burial at Holly Springs.

The big procession bore on, slowly, led by a double file line of motorcycle policemen, followed by Patriot Guard riders and White’s brothers in law enforcement from everywhere, anywhere. The battleship gray and midnight black of the Brookhaven Police Department’s cruisers were escorted by the other colors of the law — the bright white of a Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy, who led the long motorcade into his territory out in the woods; the bright, orange slash of the Jackson Police Department; the red and blue “V” of the Vicksburg police; Greenwood’s baby blue; Pascagoula gold; the yellow stripe of Memphis. Neighboring officers from Copiah and Lawrence and other counties were there, police from Summit and McComb, and far-off lawmen from Gulfport, D’Ibberville and Mobile, Alabama.

Don Burns watched it all from Union Hall Baptist Church, his own flag flying off a PVC frame lashed to the bed of his truck — a 10-foot by 6-foot “thin blue line” banner, a black-and-white American flag with a single blue stripe down the center, meant to honor law enforcement. He bought it earlier in the year when his brother, retired Mississippi Highway Patrol officer Dwayne Burns, perished in a house fire in Bogue Chitto.

“I didn’t know I was going to have to pull it out of the wrapper this quick. That was just back in May, and I was hoping to leave it in the closet a while,” Burns said. “But I want to fly it today for this law enforcement officer, and any law enforcement officer who may need it. That’s my way of honoring Dwayne.”

Jackie Bessonette was nearby at Union Hall, his U.S. Army veteran’s cap green and clean for White’s passing.

“I read in the paper where he was a veteran, and the stuff he’s gone through. That made a big difference to me,” he said. “It’s just another brother, going down. I wanted to pay my respects to this man.”

Becky Williams parked her car on the side of Hwy. 84 Wednesday and watched White’s funeral procession leave Easthaven. She had gotten off work from the nightshift that morning and spent midday standing beside her van, hiding from the sun beneath a red umbrella, to see the fallen hero leave the world.

“God created us all equal, and they were protecting us,” she said of White and BPD Cpl. Zach Moak, who died alongside White in the shooting Saturday.

She is sad that young people are turning to violence instead of God.

“They don’t know any better,” she said. “Until God delivers you, you don’t know.”

Verbalee Watts closed her accounting office in Brookhaven Wednesday and Thursday out of respect for White and Moak. She sat in her car on the highway, listening to White’s funeral services on her radio. She didn’t know him, or Moak, but her late husband, Roy Watts, was a Brookhaven policeman in the early 1960s.

“I just feel so close to them,” Watts said, tears falling. “They’re out there serving and protecting and I want everyone to know we love them. We’re praying for their families.”

Jessica Regan didn’t know the officers, either, but the gravity of their passing brought her and her 3-year-old son, Bentley, up from McComb.

“I don’t know the people but we wanted to show that we’re here and we’re praying for them and taking time out of our day to show that we care,” she said.

Connie Wilkinson came up from Lucien. She said being able to stand by the road and pay her respects was “an honor.”

“They’re our protectors. They risk their lives every day for us,” she said.

Bruce DeLaughter lived that life, too — he is a former undersheriff with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, now working in the oil industry. He stood at the highway’s edge with his wife, Becky. He couldn’t bring himself to go inside the funeral service.

“I’ve seen enough of these. I don’t want to go in and see it,” DeLaughter said.

But there was hope in the proceedings, too. Peggy Ritz and Alice Gill came to see White’s journey together — Gill’s daughter, deputy Alica Warren, trained with Moak at the academy.

“We know the word says we are to celebrate when anyone gets to go into the presence of the almighty God,” Gill said.