Hundreds of mourners gathered Monday to pay their final respects to Senior Police Officer Gail Thomas, the Atlanta Police Department veteran who was struck and killed last week by an alleged drunk driver.
A sea of blue-uniformed police officers from APD and other police jurisdictions filled the pews at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Cascade Heights. They came not only to give comfort to Thomas' family and say goodbye to Thomas, a 20-year veteran who started out as a police dispatcher, but also to celebrate her life.
"I challenge you though as you sit here today, do not mourn for Gail Thomas, because Gail is all right," Maj. Christopher Leighty, APD's Zone 5 commander and Thomas' former boss at Zone 3, told the congregation.
"Mourn for our loss and the fact that world is a little less bright because of the loss of her physical presence in our life.
"We may not see her but she will forever be in our hearts and in our actions."
He said he Thomas was a better place because the night of her death, he went to the department's communications squad to see what he could learn about the incident.
The supervisor told him the shift started out really busy with the dispatchers fielding many calls. But after the accident, dispatchers said the city became still and calm, Leighty recounted.
"The words they used was that it was almost eerie at how silent the city of Atlanta had become," he said. "I thought for a moment as I was leaving communications what that meant.
"And then it dawned on me what it was, and I had to smile because I recognized that God had calmed the waters as he called an angel home."
One by one, friends, coworkers, classmates and relatives described the Atlanta native as kind, dedicated, a model officer and friend.
Known for her characteristic smile, they said she would not want them to be sad. She would want them to think of the positive interactions and memories they had of her.
Wonderful and helpful were the words cousin Stephanie Thomas, who herself is an APD dispatcher, used to describe Thomas.
She recounted an incident when Thomas was still a dispatcher and the department was understaffed. Her cousin took the calls for two zones.
“My cousin was a good friend,” Stephanie Thomas said. “I love her and I’m going to miss her.”
Speakers also used to the occasion to remind those in attendance that for law enforcement officers, tomorrow is not promised them.
“The night that Gail went on to be with God, her shift started no different than any other shift,” APD Chief George N. Turner said. “She was responding to a call that she had handled — similar to hundreds of times — she was going to assist another officer to work traffic around an accident. But unfortunately, she lost her life that night.”
Two law enforcement officers lose their lives a week in the United States, Turner said, with the majority of those deaths being traffic-related.
His words were haunting because only three years ago, APD gathered at this same church to mourn the death of another officer who was killed by an alleged drunk driver.
“So as you respond to your different calls as officers, continue to use due regard,” Turner told officers. “We pray that you get home safely.”
Theirs is a risky profession requiring dedication and courage, Mayor Kasim Reed said.
"The citizens of Atlanta, we ask a lot from all of our public safety officers," Reed said. "We ask them to protect us, we ask them to wake up every single day and do a job knowing that a fundamental part of their duty is to take risk that means that they may not make it home that night."
It required a sense of courage, the mayor said, that Thomas had in full measure.
"It takes an incredibly special and dedicated person," Reed said, "to accept these challenges and heed that sacred call of duty."
Dozens of police officers also showed support for friends and family on Sunday night during a prayer vigil held at Thomas’ Austell home.
The burial was planned at Mount Harmony Cemetery on Veterans Memorial Parkway in Mableton.