A 21-gun salute, a wreath of white flowers, and flags at half mast Friday accompanied fond memories and recollections as a group of Bulloch County law enforcement officers and friends remembered a fellow officer killed in the line of duty.
Bulloch County Sheriff’s Sgt. Wilbur Berry, known as “Bulloch 8,” was killed during a struggle with a suspect May 19, 2001.
The memorial service was held in front of the Bulloch County Jail, at the Arnold Ray Akins Complex. A group of Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and Jail employees stood in formation in the parking lot as others lined up behind them to pay respects, in close proximity to a road named in Berry’s honor.
Berry was one of several officers who responded May 19, 2001, to a Simons Road home, off U.S. 80 West to investigate a report of a suspicious person. Deputies found a stolen truck in the yard, and a wanted man hiding inside a home.
When they tried to capture the man, wanted in connection to a number of crimes, he fought back in spite of being sprayed with OC spray. The suspect grabbed a gun from one of the deputy’s holsters and opened fire.
Bullets struck Berry four times and another deputy, Inv. Bill Black, twice. Black survived his injuries, but after being rushed to the hospital, Berry died.
A third deputy on the scene fired back at the suspect, fatally wounding him.
Friday, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office chaplain Joey Fennel opened with a prayer and a poem by Chuck Bowman, titled “Line of Blue.” Then Bulloch County Sheriff Lynn Anderson spoke.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” he said. “It seems like just a few days since it happened.”
Anderson had just taken office a short time before Berry’s death, and the well-loved deputy’s demise shattered the department, he said.
“It was a sad day, but we’re here to remember Wilbur, and you can’t talk about Wilbur without smiling. We still miss him, and this is just a small way to honor our friend.”
Berry’s widow, Judy Berry, and her daughter, Melissa Berry Deal, were present for the ceremony.
“It means a lot to know they still honor him and keep him in remembrance,” Judy Berry said.
After the memorial, everyone was invited into the sheriff’s office courtroom for breakfast. The meal – fresh fruit with a cream cheese dip, link sausage, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, coffee and orange juice – was provided by the Bulloch County Correctional Institute.
As they ate, law enforcement officers and friends of Berry shared fond memories of the man they said always made people laugh.
“He was always a pleasure to be around,” said Capt. Todd Hutchens. “He always had a positive attitude n matter the circumstances. He kept the department in stitches.”
Inv. John Riggs recalled his first days as a deputy, riding with Berry. “I was green as grass,” he said. “Wilbur was a big ol’ bear.”
Capt. Rick Rountree agreed. “Wilbur was always smiling,” he said.
Inside the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, a large plaque gives testimony to the respect for Berry by his fellow officers.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.