Liam Wilson, 9, stood proudly saluting as dozens of friends and family members of deceased law enforcement officers watched as color guards marched slowly by the steps of the old Decatur courthouse.
Late last year, Liam lost his father, Doraville Police officer Robert Shane Wilson, 27, who died after colliding with a drunken driver traveling the wrong way on I-20.
Liam was invited to take part in the presentation of colors May 23, as DeKalb County honored law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty. To date, there have been 40 in DeKalb County. As Liam and the color guard finished their salutes, the mood was somber.
“It’s so humbling for my son to be honored here for losing his life in the line of duty,” Wilson’s stepfather Jim Hanson said.
Both Hanson and his wife, Gayle Hanson, are retired from the DeKalb County Police Department. Hanson said life has been painful since his son’s death but his family appreciates the support of the community and the law enforcement community.
On Nov. 14, 2011, Wilson, the overnight on-call police officer in Doraville, was responding to a reported home invasion when 39-year-old Dunwoody resident Gene Jones allegedly struck and killed him. Jones was later charged with first degree vehicular homicide and DUI.
Hanson said his grandson Liam was fortunate to know his father for the eight years he did, and both he and his grandson knew Wilson died a hero.
“At the moment Shane lost his life on I-20 when he was struck by a drunk driver going the wrong way, if he did nothing else in the line of duty, he stopped that drunk driver from hitting someone else,” Hanson said.
Doraville Police Chief John King said this wasn’t the first time he has lost an officer but it wasn’t any easier.
“In a small agency like Doraville you participate in the hiring of almost every one of these kids and you personally end up going out on calls with all of these young men and women,” King said.
“It’s a small agency and we’re grieving; our agency is grieving and our community is grieving. It’s tough and it really pushes every strain it takes to be an effective leader and member of the police department.”
DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis thanked Liam and the rest of Wilson’s family for being present and taking part in the ceremony. Ellis said the list of officers killed, dating back to 1852, has become far too long.
“Although we understand the risks associated with their selfless service it does not prepare us for the time when one of our own is lost,” Ellis said. “Every day they don their uniforms could be a day that they won’t return home.”
The ceremony drew to a close as a firing squad offered a three-round salute to the fallen officers. As the smell of gunpowder rose into the air, a lone bugler stationed beneath the gazebo played Taps to an audience who bowed their heads in silence.