Hundreds of Forsyth County residents stopped by McDonald and Son Funeral Home to celebrate the sixth annual Blue Lives Matter law enforcement appreciation event held on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
Kona Ice had frosty treats for all while adults mingled with local law enforcement officers and children played on bouncy houses.
At 7 p.m., Paul Holbrook hosted a memorial for the 307 law enforcement officers that have lost their lives on duty or due to the pandemic in 2021 and 2020, since the event had to be canceled last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Every year that I host this, it always makes me emotional,” Holbrook said.
City and county officials spoke at the memorial after a presentation of bagpipes, the Pledge of Allegiance and a medley of songs from the Cumming Elementary School chorus.
Before the guest speakers came on stage, citizens read aloud each of the names of the law enforcement officers that have passed, along with the date of their End of Watch.
It was silent in the room as each name and date was read, putting a somber highlight on the reason for holding the event.
City of Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow later spoke about the “love and respect” he had for “our local law enforcement,” a sentiment shared by other city officials.
Brumbalow spoke personally about being the son of a law enforcement officer, stating that he understood the worry that came with that.
“I remember those nights when we were sitting there and your dad comes home with blood on his uniform,” Brumbalow said. “You’re freaking out, but he says, ‘It’s not mine.’ I know what that’s like.”
As Mayor, Brumbalow said that one of his visions was to put a restored police car in the Cumming City Center as a memorial for Forsyth County Sheriff’s Deputy James William “Bill” Cantrell and Reserve Deputy Larry Mulkey, who were abducted and killed by assailants when responding to a burglary call on Jan. 10, 1972.
The car, a replica 1969 Chevrolet Impala patrol car, has been featured in the county as a “moving memorial” since 2019.
Brumbalow also spoke about BADGE, Benevolent Association Dedicated to Giving to Employees, and the work that it has done providing support and assistance to Cumming and Forsyth County first responders in need. Recently, BADGE hosted its second annual Back the Blue Softball Tournament, which raised $30,000.
Forsyth County Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills said that she had a speech prepared, but she was reminded of Cantrell and Mulkey by Brumbalow.
She said that thinking about Cantrell and Mulkey continued to make her feel the “significance of honoring our law enforcement.”
Mills stated that, years ago, she noticed someone asking why Forsyth County did not have any roads named after fallen officers on Facebook.
“I just thought, ‘Why haven’t we done that?’” Mills said.
She then began looking for candidate roads that could be changed to honor Cantrell and Mulkey, the only two officers in Forsyth County that have been slain in action.
Eventually, Mills stumbled across a road that was previously called “New Old Atlanta Road,” a name that was “very confusing.”
“You’ve got Old Atlanta Road and then New Old Atlanta Road,” Mills said. “It didn’t make any sense.”
As soon as Mills was able to get the OK to change New Old Atlanta Road to Deputy Bill Cantrell Memorial and Larry Mulkey Memorial roads, she called Cantrell’s widow.
“I called her…and I said, ‘…I wanted to call and tell you [that] we’re going to name a road after Bill,” Mills said. “I wasn’t expecting her to cry. I wasn’t expecting how much it would mean to her.”
Mills said that memory reminded her just how important it was to say thank you to our local law enforcement officers.
“I’m grateful to be a part of [this event] because it gives me a chance to say thank you,” Mills said. “Thank you for the sacrifices that you make as a spouse and thank you to our first responders and all that you do.”
“Even though somebody might not be saying it every day, …there’s a community here … that really backs our law enforcement,” she said. “I think we’re sort of a rare thing in the world maybe today, that we really have a deep respect and a deep appreciation [for our law enforcement.]”
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Sheriff Ron Freeman shared closing remarks from a law enforcement side, stating that he believed people have “villainized law enforcement and broader public safety” in the past 18 months.
“That contrast [to that] is blessedly Forsyth County,” Freeman said, “where we have the [Cumming Elementary] choir who have beautiful children who are celebrating this country. And while it’s not perfect, it’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Freeman said that he was grateful to the county commissioners for “super-funding the police” in the “midst of ‘Defund the Police’” movements in 2020.
“That [support] doesn’t exist everywhere,” Freeman said. “It takes hard work from both sides. It takes being honest when we mess up and owning up when we mess up and apologizing when we mess up. And it takes a community that’s willing to forgive when we mess up.”
Freeman said that he felt “blessed to work in a place” with strong support and a sense of trust between “law enforcement, public safety and the community that we serve.”
“Thank you for being who you are and joining us in letting [Forsyth County] be a special place,” Freeman said. “We truly are blessed, and we truly are appreciative.”
A display of fireworks finished off the program, displaying colors of red, white and blue in honor of the lives lost on duty and those that continue to serve in the name of safety.