As they were released into the dark sky, blue lights reflected off the hundreds of balloons outside McDonald & Son Funeral Home on Tuesday night, the helium-filled orbs taking flight as “Amazing Grace” played from the ground.
Law enforcement officials, residents and children looked up solemnly at the balloons, a tribute to the 146 law enforcement personnel across the nation who lost their lives in 2016.
Though a solemn evening, Forsyth’s second annual Blue Lives Matter event celebrated law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve, as well as honored those who were killed in the line of duty.
“It’s a night where we honor our first responders,” said Sheriff Ron Freeman. “We had a whole room filled with our great citizens here from Forsyth County and just paying tribute, in particular, to those officers who have fallen in the last year.
“We heard 146 names — 10 from the state of Georgia — so that really hits home, and that’s not even counting the firefighters; those are 146 names of law enforcement officers. It makes us realize just how blessed we are to live here in Forsyth County.”
So far this year in Georgia, five officers and one K-9 have been killed. Most recently on Sept. 29, a 29-year-old Polk County Detective was shot after she and her fellow officer were ambushed when responding to reports of a stolen vehicle.
In Las Vegas, several off-duty police officers are believed to be among the victims who were murdered when a 64-year-old Nevada resident opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 people attending a country music festival Sunday night.
“I think it’s also important to remember the sacrifice these men and women gave,” Freeman said. “It was just Friday — 80 miles from [Forsyth] — in Polk County that a detective gave her life to prevent further [deaths.]
“It’s important to remember what these men and women do every day in our communities. It’s not just walking a lady across the street, although that’s an important thing we do; it’s the fact that these men and women will put themselves in harm’s way to protect people they’ve never met, and those are heroes in my book.”
The evening, Freeman said, was also a way to bring together the community and those who serve them, and hopefully bridge the gap often felt between citizens and officers.
“[This event] means a lot because it gives us that chance to see that interaction with our community,” he said. “It gives us that chance for us to pay respect for the trust that they place in us and it also just gives a change for us to interact.
“I also think it just brings a tighter bond between our law enforcement community, our first responders and the citizens here in Forsyth County. We’re all blessed to have [our] officers and I know I’m blessed to currently be their leader.”