Community says goodbye to deputy, hero, husband, father

Published On: Feb 20 2012 09:13:43 AM EST
Updated On: Feb 20 2012 11:52:11 PM EST

Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said he expected today's funeral service would be one of the largest remembrances his community has ever seen.

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. -

A grieving community gathered at a Middleburg church Monday morning for a solemn sendoff for a Clay County deputy shot and killed last week during a drug raid.

Thousands attended the funeral for 35-year-old Detective David White, including his partner, Detective Matt Hanlin, released from the hospital Monday morning after being shot in the arm during the raid of a meth lab on Thursday evening. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the sheriffs of 13 nearby counties also attended.

"I've lived in Clay County my entire life and I don't think I've ever seen this kind of response," Sheriff Rick Beseler said.

The funeral at the First Baptist Church of Middleburg lasted about 90 minutes, followed by a graveside service at the Russell Haven of Rest Funeral Home outside of Green Cove Springs.

While services were private and the family asked that the media not to be inside the funeral, hundreds of members of the community paid respects by lining the route of the funeral procession.

The number of mourners was so numerous the last cars were leaving the church when the hearse turned into the cemetery 11 miles away. The motorcade slowed as it passed Middleburg High School, White's alma mater, where many had gathered to show their sympathy and respect.

"A soldier, a police officer, a respected man in the community," White's former classmate Melissa Robles said of him. "It's very sad."

"He was a good person, real friendly, would do anything to help anybody," said Dolorah Hawkins, who knew White.

Even those who didn't know him personally stood by during the procession feeling a deep connection.

"This just hurts to see somebody get killed senselessly," community member Pat Pine said.

"It's a thankless job they have. They put their life on the line every day," said Gary Wells, who handed out flowers during the procession. "He did give the ultimate sacrifice and we do appreciate the job that he did."

Sharing a fraternal spirit, the Blue Knights came to pay their respects alongside many others braving the wind to catch a glimpse of the procession. The group released green and white ballons to pay tribute.

"Police officers walk the thin blue line every day, and our hearts and prayers go out to them," said Steve Sowards, of the Blue Knights.

"He's somebody to be remembered, and I think Clay County will remember him for some time to come," added community member Steve Cleary.

White was a nine-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, as well as an Army veteran. He leaves behind a wife and two young children -- 5 months and 4 years old.

"They've had a chance now to digest that somewhat," Beseler said. "They're still destroyed. It's still something they'll never recover from. But they are pulling themselves together. They're being strong."

White was a member of the Sheriff's Office honor guard, which now has the responsibility of serving at his funeral.

"It was a great tribute to this man we call a hero today," former police officer Ken Jefferson said of the funeral service he attended. "Listening to the facts of his life, he didn't become a hero the day that he died. He was a hero long before then."

Hanlin, White's partner, sat in a wheelchair near the front of the church, wearing an arm sling after being released from a hospital earlier in the morning. The crowd inside saluted him with a standing ovation.

"He was broken. He did the best he could to hold up," Jefferson said. "He's very grief stricken right now because he was there. He was up close and personal in this incident. He's still recovering from his injuries, but he was broken. You could tell that it's cutting deep to the core with him right now."

Jefferson said White's widow, Jennifer, showed strength.

"The wife, when she walked in, she squared her shoulders, she walked firm and tall with her two children, one in her arms and one flanking her," Jefferson said. "She walked firm and tall, and she sat through the service listening to all of the great things the men and women had to say about her husband."

Thousands waited in line for up to two hours Sunday afternoon for a viewing for White.

"It's got to be exhausting for the family to stand there, speak to every person, shake every person's hand. But they're doing that," Beseler said.

The governor ordered flags lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Monday at the Clay County Sheriff's Office, the Clay County Courthouse and Green Cove Springs City Hall.

"I kind of look at him now as a a saint. He's up there watching over all of us. Not a mean bone in his body. An amazing guy," said White's former partner, Sgt. Andy Scott.

Law enforcement from all around the state showed their support for White's family after losing one of their own in the line of duty.

"Because this is a brotherhood, this goes deep into the core of law enforcement, whether you're active or retired," Jefferson said.

"I think it's a very sad day, very emotional when people are risking their lives for us," Middleburg resident David Duckworth said. "We really don't think about it nearly as much until something like this happens."

Donations to assist the family are being accepted at the Clay County Sheriff's Office Humanitarian Fund at the Heritage Bank in Orange Park, account No. 1520387212.

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