It’s been 30½ years since sheriff’s Deputy Tony Wilder set out on a cold January Friday to serve a committal warrant on a south Georgia man. It was just another day on the job.
I was in my office wrapping up a story when we heard chatter over our police scanner from out in the boonies.
Here is how the Officer Down Memorial Page remembers that day:
“Deputy Tony Wilder was shot and killed while he and several other deputies attempted to serve a committal warrant on a man. The suspect opened fire with a rifle, fatally wounding Deputy Wilder. He then grabbed a shotgun and continued to fire, wounding three other deputies and two civilians before being shot and killed.
“Deputy Wilder was survived by his wife and three children.”
I sent reporters and a photographer out to the boondocks while the rest of us stayed behind and listened as the events unfolded. What had been a cold Friday turned into a chilly January weekend.
We always worked closely with the sheriff’s office, and Tony was one of its best and brightest. He was 43, tall, always smiling, friendly, soft-spoken. A gun on him looked out of place.
He was one of the cops I knew while covering police stations, county courthouses, jails, courtrooms. I knew desk sergeants, meter maids, undercover officers, street cops. court bailiffs, school officers. They were decent men and women of the cloth in a profession whose cloth held a badge and a gun.
My first job as a reporter, I was asking the five W’s of a South Carolina highway patrolman I had just met after a very large trucker caused a collision. When the trucker came at me and said I’d better not put anything about his wreck in the paper, the trooper stepped in the way and said: “Look, sir, he’s doing his job just as I’m doing mine.”
A sheriff once asked me to go with him to inform a woman that her teenage son had just been killed in a traffic wreck. He didn’t have the heart to do it alone.
After interviewing our drug squad chief one day, I jokingly asked whether he had any freebies I could take with me. He pulled open his drawer and handed me a joint: “Now, I’ll give you five minutes’ head start.” I didn’t need that long to hand it right back.
At a county commission meeting, a very large Southern sheriff chewed out the commissioners and then turned to me and said, “And if you put that in the paper, I’ll deck you.”
I did, and he didn’t. After that, he got into a little trouble over having inmates pave private driveways. It happens in all lines of work.
The Officer Down Memorial Page lists 68 officers killed so far this year, with deaths by gunfire up 82 percent.
This quote from Chris Cosgriff, the founder of the site, is atop the page:
“When a police officer is killed, it’s not an agency that loses an officer, it’s an entire nation.”
Reach Glynn Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.