Athens shootings rock local law enforcement
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Hartselle Police Chief Ron Merkh said he didn't know the two Athens officers killed in the line of duty last week. That won't prevent him and others in his department from wearing black strips across their badge, honoring two they may not have known but shared much with.
"There's shock and disbelief and it's hard to accept when something like this does happen," Merkh said. "It is like losing a family member."
Athens Police Sgt. Larry Russell and Officer Tony Mims were gunned down last Friday after they responded to a 911 call from Farron Barksdale, 28. Barksdale placed the call, allegedly luring the officers to the scene. Mims was shot in his car as he pulled up at the home. Russell arrived minutes later and was shot as he got out of his car.
Barksdale was staying with his mother at the time of the slayings, but according to the Athens-News Courier, he sometimes lived in Decatur. Barksdale, who is described by Limestone County law enforcement officials as mentally disturbed, is charged with six counts of murder. The Limestone County Sheriff's Department is handling the investigation. It is routine for an outside law enforcement agency to handle investigations when an officer is killed.
But it's that phrase – killed – that bothers Merkh.
"When an officer dies, people always say they were killed. They weren't killed. They were murdered. There were two murders. He (Barksdale) was brave enough to take that step and he knew what he was going to do and in my definition that's murder. That's how I try and deal with it in the hopes that justice will be done."
The deaths also reinforce the dangerous nature of a police officer's job, even in a small and peaceful town like Hartselle.
"More police officers are killed in the Southeast than anywhere in the country," Merkh said. "Part of that is because of the general attitude of how friendly the South is. People don't understand that when he (an officer) is stopping someone or pulling them over, he doesn't care if you've lived here all your life. That doesn't make a difference to a 25-year-old who wants to go home to his wife and children."
Merkh said the Athens situation also providers an answer to some of the department's critics, who have questioned why the department uses two or three officers in some traffic stops.
"Why does it take two or three cars to pull someone over? You never know what you are going to encounter. You just never know."
Funeral services for both officers were held Tuesday. Both officers leave behind a wife and four children.
The city of Athens has set up a memorial fund. Donations can be made to Reliance Bank, 112 North Jefferson Street, Athens, AL 35611.