KONZ | Murder of two police officers leaves a gaping hole in the heart of Hattiesburg, Miss.
"We just had to be here to support them," said Youlander Ross, Tate's mother, as she fought back tears. "As hard as this is, we just had to be here."
That seems to be the sentiment of most people here, despite the pain and sorrow running deep in their hearts.
The incident -- and the aftermath -- have shaken everyone from florists and business owners to the local funeral director and the young journalist who started reporting on the murders almost immediately after they happened.
"This has been so difficult for me," said Ryan Moore, a reporter with WDAM-TV, the local NBC affiliate in Hattiesburg. "I knew Deen as a friend and I was raised in a law enforcement family."
Moore's father, Larry Moore, was an officer with the Hattiesburg Police Department for 22 years. Larry Moore was friends and worked closely with Jackie Dole Sherrill, the last Hattiesburg officer to die in the line of duty in 1984, prior to the deaths of Deen and Tate. At Sherrill's funeral, Larry Moore presented her husband with her badge.
"This has been the hardest thing I have had to cover in my career," he said. "This is my hometown."
Hulett-Winstead Funeral Home director Jason Ross was tasked with bringing Deen's body from the Mississippi State Crime Lab back to Hattiesburg on Monday.
"I am normally not a emotional person and as a funeral director, I have a tendency to shoulder my tears, but the drive back to Hattiesburg was heart wrenching," Ross wrote on his Facebook page. "From the moment I pulled away from the crime lab, I was blown away by the outpouring of support shown by not only law enforcement, but the fire departments, EMS personnel and the lay citizens who stood out in the rain to salute a dear hero."
How else has the city of Hattiesburg responded to these murders? Waitresses and convenience store clerks are wearing blue ribbons on their shirts and many business have blue ribbons attached to their signs or front doors. Residents have decorated their mailboxes with ribbons and flags of local law enforcement officers who live in their neighborhood. People are displaying condolences on the back windshields of their cars.
And at night time, many neighborhoods and subdivisions are illuminated in blue as homeowners have replaced their traditional light bulbs with blue ones in honor of the fallen police officers. A local business -- Batteries Plus Bulbs -- offered free blue bulbs to all those who wanted one and has had to order more to keep up with the demand.
This week has been especially difficult for the 105 sworn officers who remain in the Hattiesburg Police Department, but the response of this community has made the heartbreak a little easier.
"This has been so incredibly hard, but what I have seen this week has really helped me," said Lt. Harris Tapp, who serves as the traffic commander for the Hattiesburg Police Department. "So many bad things have been said about police officers over the past few months and it's been difficult because you start to wonder if people really think that way."
But Tapp, who helped arrange the transport and procession arrangements for his fallen brothers, said he now feels that isn't the case.
"We were driving by and saw so many people," he said. "Old people, young people. Black people, white people, Children were crying and people were holding signs and flags. It gives me hope. I think this community has really spoken to the world in support of its police officers and that means the world to us."
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree has watched his city come together this week and says he hopes it's something that will resonate for a long time.
"I think it shows you that despite that fact that we are hurting, we are all trying to heal together," Dupree said. "This incident hasn't divided our city, it has united us."
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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