Roughly 150 people gathered Thursday evening at the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity house in the University of South Carolina’s Greek Village for a candlelight vigil celebrating the life and memory of slain Forest Acres police officer Greg Alia.
Alia, 32, of the Forest Acres area, was fatally shot Thursday during a struggle with a suspect at the Richland Mall. He was a seven-year veteran of the Forest Acres Police Department and a graduate of USC and Richland Northeast High School. He had been married nearly four years and had become a father in March.
Past and current members of USC’s Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, which Alia helped found when he was in college, comprised the majority of the crowd gathered under a dark sky and drizzling rain. Law enforcement comprised another large chunk. Scattered among them were with USC students and representatives and other community members.
“As members of this community, one which Greg served and protected every single day, we owe a debt of gratitude to his memory,” said Adam Piper, one of Alia’s fraternity brothers, asking that Alia’s friends write down fond memories of him so his son, Sal, can read them as he grows up.
The roughly 45-minute vigil featured a singing of “Amazing Grace,” a reading of the Bible’s 23rd Psalm, a lighting of candles and prayer. A frame containing pictures of the chapter’s members during the 2004-05 school year, including Alia, was placed on display in front of the house.
Forest Acres Police Chief Gene Sealy called Alia an “outstanding police officer” who gave his heart and soul to the job. Sealy said Alia’s actions on Wednesday may have saved other lives, and he urged those at the vigil to stay connected with Alia’s family.
“I’m overwhelmed by the support given here by the folks tonight,” Sealy said. “This is such a remarkable gathering to honor Greg.”
Chris Scott, who said he grew up and went to USC and then California with Alia, said the vigil provided a chance for Alia’s old friends to meet up again and cope together.
Scott said he has been an emotional wreck over the past two days, but that “getting a chance to meet up with people who knew him and finally talking about the good stuff has been really good.”
Austin Butcher, a junior finance and accounting major at USC, was one of the Phi Sigma Kappa brothers who organized the vigil. He said the fraternity brothers realized soon after Alia’s death that he had been one of the chapter’s founding members.
Butcher said fraternity brothers are expected to learn the chapter’s history, including its founding members, and that right away, they wanted to honor Alia, “rally behind his family and do what we can.”
“We wanted to make him the focus of this – not what happened to him,” Butcher said. “We wanted his memory to be the focus.”
Alia’s wife, Kassy, spoke at the end of the vigil, telling the crowd that her husband was proud of being a Phi Sig, and urging the current members to emulate him.
“Please carry his memory and honor,” she said. “Please represent him well, and his fraternity, and he will be so proud to call you all his family. Thank you for remembering us. Thank you for supporting us. We love you all. Thank you.”
“We love you,” called back one voice from the rear of the crowd. “We love you.”