On Saturday for the second time this week Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese spoke at the funeral of a deputy killed in the line of duty.
“This has been the toughest time of my life,” Deese said at the service for Deputy Daryl Smallwood at Southside Baptist Church. “This is the biggest tragedy that has ever hit Peach County since our inception.”
Two days earlier at the same church Deese spoke at the funeral of Sgt. Patrick Sondron. The two were fatally wounded Sunday after responding to a call that a man had pointed a gun at someone.
As he talked about how close a sheriff can be to deputies, Deese acknowledged the many sheriffs and police chiefs from around the state who were in the audience.
“They will tell you these are our sons,” Deese said. “When they hurt, we hurt.”
Smallwood, who served in the Marines, was remembered as a dedicated law man. His best friend Benji Varnum, spoke at the service.
“We weren’t related by blood but he was my brother,” Varnum said. “He was a good man, an excellent father, a great cop, a loving son, and the greatest best friend you could ever ask for.”
Brian Stewart, Peach County Sheriff’s Office chaplain, also spoke at both funerals.
“The circumstance we faced this week, I pray we will never have to do this again,” he said.
Stewart said Sondron and Smallwood demonstrated an act of love when they answered the call of a man threatening people with a gun Sunday.
“On Sunday Daryl and Patrick demonstrated a selfless and sacrificial act of love by standing in the gap between good and evil, and they gave their lives in doing so,” he said.
Stewart and Deese remarked on the negative view of law enforcement in other areas of the country, but they said the tragedy has shown there is a different attitude in Middle Georgia.
“We are thankful for the overwhelming support that’s been given to us,” Stewart said.
Deese thanked all the law enforcement agencies who have come to the department’s assistance since the shooting. He defended law enforcement in general and said there has been “trash talk” around the country about the profession.
“What people don’t realize is that without us there, America can’t exist,” he said. “We are the structure of what holds this country together.”
Deese said one of his young deputies told him after the shooting that he didn’t know if he could recover and stay in the profession.
“My response is ‘We don’t have a choice,’” Deese said. “This is what we do. Sooner or later that phone call is going to ring and a Peach County citizen is going to need us, and we’ve got to be there for them.”
Deese noted that both funerals have been held in Houston County.
“All of those Houston County citizens were out there respecting us just like we were one of their on,” he said of Sondron’s procession. “They didn’t owe us that. That’s what makes this so special, what we do.”
He said the department has gotten thousands of calls and emails offering help.
“Everybody in Middle Georgia has just been calling offering anything that you need,” he said.