Bonded by Tragedy
The murder of policemen changes entire cities. It changed little Georgetown, too, but in a way no one ever expected.
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The hospital called his cell: Doctors had a heartbeat on Spicer. Topping took another call: Police had apprehended the suspected shooter. A minute later, Beebe again: Patrolman Chad Ernest Spicer was dead.
The weather was overcast on Tuesday, September 8, the day Chad Spicer was buried. Red and white and blue balloons, tethered to mailboxes across Sussex County, flapped in a cool breeze that hinted at the coming of rain. There was a service at the Crossroads Community Church.
Police officers from more than 100 units in Delaware and across the nation had met at the Christiana Mall early in the day. Their cars and motorcycles formed a mile-long procession that headed south on Del. 1. Arriving in Georgetown two hours later, they escorted the white hearse that bore Spicer’s casket. The procession drove through Kimmeytown—a Last Watch—as families left their homes to salute the fallen officer. For nearly four miles of the Seashore Highway, officers stood in salute as the hearse made its way to the cemetery.
Nine months after Spicer was murdered, town manager Gene Dvornick flips through a large loose-leaf binder labeled “Funeral.” It contains reams of meeting notes and cryptically sketched maps of Georgetown, all written in the days after Spicer’s death.
When Dvornick isn’t overseeing the town, he is a deputy chief with the Milton Fire Department. On the night of September 1, he was one of two people Topping called for help. At about 9 p.m., Dvornick hastily wrote a brief statement on a sheet of yellow note paper, which he then read aloud at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center, informing the media, the townspeople and the state of Delaware that Spicer had been pronounced dead.
In the wake of Spicer’s death, Dvornick and other Georgetown leaders braced for a backlash of anger and racist sentiment, given that Spicer was white and Powell was of mixed heritage. Indeed, a floodgate of emotion found its way onto Internet sites and at the trail end of online news reports.
“For what it’s worth, I’m enjoying seeing the cuts and bruises on this scumbag’s face,” read one comment. Said another, in all capital letters, “He killed a police officer doing his job. Whatever the hell happens to him is not good enough.” Someone else wrote, “The only thing missing is the bullet hole between his eyes.”
Yet the backlash town leaders had feared would rupture the town forever ended in cyberspace. Grief and mourning, it turned out, were color-blind. Everyone in Georgetown and beyond was, for the first time, bound by a common conversation, by the same tragedy. Lines in the pavement suddenly blurred. After years of polite but distinct separation, second- and third-generation white families were helping the families in Kimmeytown plant flowers and create murals to honor Spicer.
“The initial wave of numbness, the feeling of ‘Why, in of all places, did it happen here?’ was soon replaced by, ‘What needs to get done and how do we do it correctly and with everyone’s help?’” Dvornick says. “Rather than rage and anger, it was acceptance and revelation. It was as if the entire town understood that, yes, the event took place, and we cannot change what happened. But now we need to come together to show respect toward the event and change things for the better.”
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