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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Brian Pettyjohn was installed as the mayor of Georgetown on May 26. Except for 10 years that he lived upstate, he has called the town his home since he was born.
When he was a boy, he would accompany his father on drives through the town, watch him wave to people on the sidewalk as he passed by them. “That feeling went away for a long time, but I’m starting to see it again,” Pettyjohn says. “From tragedy, you receive small gifts.”
He waved a hand in the direction of The Circle. “Here, you treat your neighbors as though they’re your family, and the Spicer family has always opened up their hearts to people,” he says. “When tragedy happens to people like that, it becomes natural for others to give back in that same capacity. I wish we could bottle that feeling and sell it.”
Perhaps at no other time had Pettyjohn felt the gravity of his position than on Friday, September 4, 2009, when a candlelight vigil, sponsored by the Georgetown chapter of HOLA, was held on The Circle. Hundreds of people attended, holding candles that HOLA had donated. Surrounded by Secret Service, Joe Biden told the masses in attendance that he came to the service not as the vice president of the United States, but as a citizen of Delaware.
“Because of us, because we ask men and women to strap on a sidearm and put on a badge to protect us, we, the people of Georgetown, of this county, we owe you. There are no words to heal us tonight, anyone who has lost a child, a loved one, someone you were in love with. There are never appropriate words to fill that void.”
He then walked up to Aubrey, Spicer’s 2-year-old daughter and with his right hand, he touched her left cheek. He then returned to his seat, dropped his head into his hands, and wept.
“On the night of the candlelight vigil, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I am so proud of my town,’” says town council member Sue Barlow. Her two sons Michael and Matthew serve on the Georgetown police force. “Wards of this town that don’t generally mix had begun to form a checkerboard cloth of unity. Strangers began to go up to strangers. However tragic this event was, it has changed the entire palette of our community.”
“Chad loved the people of Kimmeytown and the entire Hispanic community of Georgetown,” Pettyjohn says. “They knew that he would do anything they needed of him. That night, they repaid him.”
On the wall of Chief Topping’s office at the Georgetown Police Department on Pepper and Race streets, there are two photographs that show that true grit and compassion can coexist in the same person. On one end, a sepia-toned John Wayne wears a cowboy hat and wields a pistol. On the other end, high on the shelf, there is a framed color photo of Ruth Ann and Norman Spicer, Chad’s parents, holding their granddaughter, Aubrey.
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