SHEFFIELD — Emotions were high Monday afternoon as thousands of people stood along the highways and streets stretching from Decatur to Florence while the body of Sheffield Police Sgt. Nick Risner was escorted by dozens of law enforcement vehicles in his return to the Shoals.
Risner, 40, who served nine years on the Sheffield police force and eight years with the U.S. Army Reserves, died Saturday morning.
He suffered multiple gunshot wounds in an exchange of gunfire Friday afternoon with Brian Lansing Martin, according to police.
Risner became the first Shoals area police officer lost in the line of duty since 2007.
His funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
The scene on Monday along the streets and roadways as Risner’s body was transported to the funeral home was a sea of blue. Thousands of people wore blue shirts to show their support and respect for Risner, his family and law enforcement.
Spectators were lined up several deep from the Second Street Sheffield Fire Station to City Hall on the north end of Montgomery Avenue.
A huge American flag hung high atop a ladder truck near the fire department, while two Sheffield Utilities ladder trucks stationed on either side of Montgomery Avenue displayed a flag in midtown.
Many waved American flags, and several along the route had signs with messages such as “God Speed Sierra One” and “You Will Never Be Forgotten.”
Across the hood of her SUV, Sheffield resident Donna Dowdell displayed the flag with a blue stripe through the center.
Dowdell, the paralegal for Sheffield’s city prosecutor, Ben Gardner, said the heavy turnout for Risner’s procession was fitting and indicative of the life he lived.
“He was always about bringing people together, helping people,” she said. “His spirit is all through this city right now. I feel it.”
Jerry Reaves, a retired building official with Sheffield, said Risner came to work in Sheffield about a year or so before Reaves retired.
“I was blessed to get to know him,” Reaves said. “He was a good man, who loved people. He took care of people. Now it’s time for people to take care of his family.”
James McElroy of Sheffield said he wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to salute Risner one more time.
“He had a unique way of befriending pretty much everyone he came in contact with, and (he) even helped people that most folks would say were undeserving,” McElroy said. “He never thought he was better than anybody else and that made him special to a lot of people.”
Risner’s daughter, Aili, rode in the procession and gave multiple thumbs up to those she passed as a thank you to all who stood to honor her father.
Trying to cope
More than 72 hours after his death, police in the Shoals are still trying to cope with the loss.
Tuscumbia Police Chief Tony Logan said roll call for the shift after learning of Risner’s death was a solemn one.
“It was rough because we work so closely together,” Logan said of the two departments. “We share invisible lines and boundaries, but there is no doubt we have incredible men and women in all the agencies who provide the best service possible to all the communities.”
Logan said his officers’ mindsets may have changed some following the tragedy.
“I think all our guys are hyper-vigilant right now,” he said.
Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler said it’s normal to feel that way after such a loss.
“Luckily, we have a trained peer support group that can meet with officers just to talk it out,” Tyler said. “We had a number of guys meet with officers from Muscle Shoals and Sheffield the next day to talk.”
Risner was the third police officer to be shot statewide in a 24-hour period.
“What happened Friday — with everyone ... prepping for (Sheffield’s) homecoming — it was an average day that turned on its head,” he said. “You never know when it’s going to go from an average day to all hell breaking loose.”
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor said Risner’s loss is a reminder of how dangerous a career in law enforcement can be.
“Every day, officers around the state risk their lives in the performance of their duties to protect and keep their fellow citizens safe,” he said.
Logan said following Risner's funeral, the Under the Badge support group will be coming to the Shoals to offer counseling to officers.
Sheffield Mayor Steve Stanley questioned how to move forward after such a tragedy.
“You know, we hear all the time that our police put their lives on the line daily, but this devastation has made the fact of that statement really sink in,” he said.