Words of slain Moody sergeant will live on
By Gary Lloyd
MOODY — The city I called home for almost five years was dressed up as if it were homecoming week. Blue ribbons and bows danced from their respective mailboxes and front porches, and every now and then a loud truck sped by on Highway 411, Old Glory’s red, white and blue flapping high above the exhaust.
Homecoming would be a welcome event here in Moody, Alabama, one of the fastest growing cities in central Alabama. It would be a happy time. This week has been anything but that.
On Tuesday night, Moody Police Sgt. Stephen Williams was shot and killed when he answered a call at the Super 8 motel on Highway 411. He was 50 years old. A Moody resident who lives close to the Super 8 heard the shots.
“I heard constant sirens for about 10 minutes, before I finally realized something horrible must have happened,” he says. “In this day of instant news, I began receiving phone calls from people and family in the surrounding areas, as well as began to scan Facebook for any updates. As is often the case in this day and time, the facts were mixed in amidst quite a bit of rampant and reckless speculation. I can walk to the Super 8 in less than five minutes, so with the chance a suspect was at large, I felt compelled to stay indoors for the duration of the evening. I could also hear loud bangs from the dispersal of tear gas at the motel, and a couple of helicopters made their way over the area.”
A male and female were taken into custody, but at the time of this post no formal charges had been announced. And, if I may be honest, their names would not appear in this story anyway. They don’t deserve that.
“Moody Police Sergeant Stephen Williams’ end of watch has come much too soon,” U.S. Attorney Jay Town said in a statement. “Our condolences and prayers are with his family, friends, and fellow officers. His loss is a loss for all of Alabama. This serves as yet another heartbreaking and stark reminder of the perils encountered by law enforcement each day.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also issued a statement about Sgt. Williams’s murder, in part stating, “In the end, he died a hero, fulfilling the oath he swore to do — to uphold the community he served. Beyond his career in law enforcement, he was a father, and now, three children are left without their dad. We must not forget Sgt. Williams’ ultimate sacrifice was that of his family.”
I never met Sgt. Williams, but I feel like I knew him, somehow, just a little bit. Maybe the police cruiser I sat beside at the Crossroads traffic light was his. Maybe he was one of the responding officers to a couple calls in our neighborhood. Maybe that was him in the drive-thru. In 2018, I stumbled upon his “LT” Facebook page, which at the time showed photos and a video from the Barrington Parc Apartments, where Sgt. Williams and other Moody officers and officials built a basketball goal and provided basketballs for the young people who lived there. He worked with the Basketball Cop Foundation to have the hoop donated. I was hooked to his page after that, which is where I feel like I got to know him.
He was inspirational, often posting about the people in distress he encountered. One man showed him the noose he made to hang himself the night before. That man’s story ended positively. There are many other stories like it.
The sergeant did the right thing, and the little things. In front of the entrance to our neighborhood, he stopped traffic so that two adult geese and their four fuzzy children could safely cross a four-lane highway. He often fed treats to a dog at the city park.
He was funny. He shared hilarious memes, news headlines and jokes. He showed off his moves in a Moody “Dancing With the Stars” bit, which raised funds for needed equipment.
He was passionate about the job and about being a father. He shared police stories from across the country and some of his own, like how he helped a man by just giving him a shoulder to lean on, and on another occasion how he took a troubled teenager to dinner — they had chicken wings — to talk about choices and life. Of that experience, he wrote, in part, “I told him I believed he could do anything in the world as long as he didn’t mess up now in these formative years.”
Of being a father, he posted, in part, “Fatherhood- it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. It is the greatest responsibility and blessing ever bestowed upon me.”
“I obviously didn’t know Sgt. Williams personally, but it’s been uplifting to see the response to his death within the community,” says one Moody resident. “Throughout the last few days, I’ve noticed many blue ribbons attached to mailboxes and front doors throughout my neighborhood. I’ve also seen many Moody residents share Williams’s past Facebook posts, to give everyone a glimpse into what was obviously a bright personality.”
The most chilling thing I saw on his page was posted just this week on Monday, about 24 hours before he was shot and killed. Amid all the racial division in this country, of businesses burning and taking bricks through their windows, of a few bad cops giving the whole profession a bad rap, he took the time to post about going through the drive-thru in his marked vehicle, where a black man paid for his food. Sgt. Williams instructed in his post, “Don’t believe the hype.”
He also said, “Don’t fall into believing we are that different and that we hate each other. The vast majority of us are just trying to get through life and be happy. I wish no one harm and I wish all hate would cease.”
When I saw that post Wednesday morning, 12 hours after his death, I couldn’t believe it. It’s not often words on a screen cause chill bumps. I shared it on all my social media accounts, and I pleaded for friends to share it far and wide. It’s as inspiring as it is devastating. Sgt. Williams left us with words that everyone should hear and abide by.
On Thursday I had to take one of our dogs to a veterinarian appointment in Odenville. We left early to see some of the gestures honoring Sgt. Williams. I saw the flags at half-staff at Popeye’s, Precision Husky, along three main roads in the city and at various businesses. I parked outside the Super 8 and visited the little memorial of ribbons, flags and flowers on the Highway 411 right-of-way. I parked in the field across from the Moody Police Department and stood in quiet shock as I looked at Sgt. Williams’s police cruiser, parked in the grass, covered in flowers and balloons. A wooden cross leaned against the vehicle’s front bumper.
Upon leaving the vet’s office, I was passed by a St. Clair County Sheriff’s deputy speeding toward the Crossroads. I pulled off near Tractor Supply as he passed. As I passed Bluegrass Barbecue — my Lord, I miss that moonshine chicken with fried okra — a Moody officer sped by. As I approached the Super 8, where the sergeant’s murder happened not 48 hours earlier, blue lights flashed all around. Cops and deputies spilled from their vehicles. Guns were drawn. A room was checked. I saw it from the Vulcan Tire and Auto parking lot. I left before the situation was resolved, and it turned out to be a false alarm. A person was apparently acting disturbed. But it was frightening again, I’m sure, to many wearing the black and blue, like re-hurting an injury you have not even begun to heal from.
I couldn’t help but feel some sort of mental defeat in that moment. I think we are all struggling with it right now. We are mostly in quarantine. The country seems to be on fire daily. We scream at each other on social media. We yell at strangers in the streets. We choose destruction over dialogue. We are constantly waiting on the other shoe to fall.
When will all these protests end? When will cops not feel on edge? When will anyone who doesn’t feel safe feel secure in this great country again? When will we all just get along, regardless of what we look like? When will division be removed from daily life and go back to middle school math classes, where it belongs? When all these thoughts enter your mind, might I suggest taking Sgt. Williams’s words from his “LT” Facebook page to heart: “Don’t fall into believing we are that different and that we hate each other. The vast majority of us are just trying to get through life and be happy. I wish no one harm and I wish all hate would cease.”
That quote makes me smile, and has since Wednesday, and I think it would look awesome on a plaque, T-shirt, or anything else in Moody, in Alabama, in this country. Someone should make that happen. Those are the words that need to spread.
I tried to find that basketball goal Sgt. Williams helped with, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to seem like I was loitering at the apartment complex where it was erected. My plan had been to write this story from that angle, a white police officer helping mostly black teenagers have somewhere to hoist jump shots. I love stories in which sports transcend just the game. The sport becomes a metaphor for life. I wanted to talk to the boys and girls in between games of 21. I left sort of bummed that I didn’t find the hoop. But, Sgt. Williams found that need, found those kids, and that’s what matters.
How do we recover from it all? Will life be normal again? Am I safe in my own home? It’s an anxious time. We search hard for signs of positivity.
As I left the Super 8 scene and veered right onto Markeeta Spur Road, I encountered the small Peaceful Valley Baptist Church. Peaceful. We need that now, don’t we? I felt inclined to turn in. I looked up at the church’s large sign out front. The sign of positivity, of hope, was right there.
On one side, “God is in control.” On the opposite side, “Let go and let God.”
A wonderful reminder in such a difficult time. You can find those positive God-winks all over. There’s a prayer service in Moody’s city park Saturday at 9 a.m. Moody is coming together strongly in a time when cities and neighborhoods are crumbling under divisiveness. More than $40,000 had been donated to a GoFundMe account for Sgt. Williams’s family as of late Thursday night. People are making T-shirts, wristbands and door ribbons. It’s amazing to see. A community, while devastated, is coming together just like Sgt. Williams wrote in an old letter to a newly hired police officer.
“You cannot save the world,” he wrote to her. “But what you can do is Help One Person At A Time. That is all you must do. Do that, and yours is a life well lived.”
10-4, sergeant. We’ll take it from here.