The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

These Ga. police officers grew up together. This week, in the line of duty, they died together.

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Since high school Nick Smarr and Jody Smith had been inseparable — roommates after graduation; classmates at the police academy in Georgia; and best friends who, at the end of every goodbye, said the words “I love you.”

They spent their free time cackling at inside jokes only they found funny and competitively comparing cop notes: who did more work, who answered more calls, who was the better police officer. When Smith set his wedding date for May 20 of 2017, he asked Smarr to be his best man.

It was for all these reasons that their families weren’t surprised to learn that on Wednesday morning, in what would become their final act as officers and men, Smarr and Smith were together.

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At 9:30 a.m., Smarr, an Americus Police officer, was called to check out a domestic dispute at an apartment near Georgia Southwestern State University. Smith, a campus officer there, overheard the radio chatter and decided, despite the fact that other Americus, Ga., officers were en route, to “backup his friend,” Americus Police Chief Mark Scott said at a news conference.

What happened next was captured on body camera footage, authorities said, and narrated in a Facebook post by Smarr’s uncle, Michael Waters, who confirmed the details with The Washington Post.

The two drove up separately. Smith swept around the back of the apartment while Smarr approached the slightly ajar front door, according to the online post. Smarr heard commotion inside, called out and entered, where he found a suspect he “immediately recognized,” the post said, a man authorities identified as Minquell Lembrick. Also there was a woman and child, the victims from the domestic call, police said.

The man fled out the back door, Waters wrote, and Smarr followed. The man shot at the officers, striking both in the head before leaving the property, authorities said.

After shooting at the man, Smarr ran to Smith, according to the post, rolled him onto his back and performed CPR “until he could no longer.”

When backup officers arrived, they found the wounded men laying in the backyard — Smarr slumped over his best friend.

Smarr died soon after, authorities said, and Smith was airlifted to a Macon, Ga., hospital where, on Thursday, he died, too.

“Nick’s best friend is now in heaven with him,” a family member said on Facebook.

Of Smarr’s decision to administer CPR, his girlfriend, Rachel Harrod, said: “Never been more proud to call someone mine.”

At a news conference, Chief Scott said the two men were “model officers” and “heroes.”

“I can’t say enough about them,” he said. “… They were there together, they were there together through it. And even after the shooting they were together.”

Police continued to search for Lembrick, the man accused of fatally shooting Smarr and Smith, and finally located him 24 hours later when a man phoned a law enforcement tip line and said he was hiding in a house in Americus. Officers, including the SWAT team, responded immediately.

As they set up a perimeter, Scott said they heard what sounded like a gunshot from inside. For an hour, negotiators tried to coax the suspect out, but eventually used a robot to open the door, where officers found Lembrick dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Lembrick was a “career criminal” with a rap sheet 32 pages long, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan said at a news conference. At the time of the shooting, he was wanted for kidnapping and other charges, Scott told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. When asked by a reporter if Lembrick shouldn’t have been on the street, Keenan balked.

“I don’t pass judgments on the criminal justice system,” he said. “I just know that he was a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and he wreaked havoc on this community.”

News of Lembrick’s death broke just hours before authorities confirmed that Smith had also died.

After graduating from the police academy, both Smith and Smarr began their law enforcement careers with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, where Smith’s mother, Sgt. Sharron Johnson, is also employed, before transferring to other agencies and eventually both landing back in Americus, Ga.

On Facebook Wednesday morning, Smith’s mother posted a photo of her and her son from four years ago, both in uniform, with the caption: “The love of my life!!!!”

Smith and his fiancee, Sarah Smarr (not a relative of Officer Smarr), were supposed to get married on May 20, Harrod told The Washington Post. Both Smith and his fiancee were students at Georgia Southwestern State University.

Harrod said the two couples would often go on double dates and most recently carpooled to a string of weddings among friends from Smarr and Smith’s high school.

Harrod, a nursing student, met Smarr a year and a half ago after she moved to Americus for nursing school. At first, she found him arrogant and boastful, exuding a bravado she found unattractive. But upon a second meeting, Harrod uncovered details about Smarr that made her melt: His love of Disney movies, like “Hercules” and “The Lion King.” His adoration for his nieces and nephews. His preference for domestic calls over writing traffic tickets because, she said, he liked to help.

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“He just had the biggest heart of anyone I ever met. He was just looking for a way to help people in ways they couldn’t help themselves,” Harrod told The Washington Post. “I do know that his love for policing didn’t come from wanting to necessarily punish bad people. It was to help good people.”

And the friendship he shared with Smith was so fierce, Harrod said, that those closest to them at times found it irritating.

“I almost hated going places with the two of them,” she joked. “I’ve never met two men who loved each other like they did.”

Smarr’s uncle told The Post nothing exemplified that more than their final acts.

Smith coming for backup.

Smarr ignoring his own injuries to try to save his friend.

“He continued this until his last breath,” Waters said of his nephew. “That is true love for your family and friends. That is who Nick was and how he will be remembered.”

Police officers Nicholas Smarr and Jody Smith were fatally shot in Americus, Ga., while Smarr responded to a domestic disturbance call and Smith gave him backup (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

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