Greg Alia’s Ford Crown Victoria patrol vehicle sat in front of the Forest Acres Police Department headquarters Thursday, shrouded by seemingly hundreds of bouquets of flowers, cards, banners and even a necklace with a cross to honor the late police officer.
Area residents, including many from outside Forest Acres, slowly walked up to the car and touched any exposed part of its hood, rubbing it while trying to make sense of what happened just two miles away. An American flag and a South Carolina flag stood at half staff nearby.
Alia, 32, was shot to death Wednesday morning at Richland Mall, according to law enforcement authorities. Eastover resident Jarvis Hall, 34, has been charged with murder.
Officers from other agencies, members of the community, local business leaders and others trickled into the small Police Department along Trenholm Road on Thursday, nurturing a sense of community following what many call a senseless tragedy.
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Jay Lewis wore a dark blue ribbon on his shirt, representing the thin blue line of the brotherhood of law enforcement. Lewis, a retired Forest Acres police officer, worked with Alia, a seven-year vet, for three years.
“We’re a small department, but we’re a big family, and Greg was part of the family,” he said.
Lewis described Alia as a caring, conscientious and hard-working officer who had the potential to one day become a great supervisor.
He said he heard about the shooting of his former colleague after several friends and his wife called him about it.
“I didn’t know who it was at first, but I was just praying for them to be safe,” he said of hearing there had been a shooting. “... When I found out it was one of our guys and who it was, (my reaction was), ‘It can’t be. It just can’t be.’”
Lewis said he hopes the public knows that, barring a few bad apples, police officers are good people.
“Greg was one of the best, and I hope that they learn we are here to help them and to show them friendship and be there for them, other than just arresting people,” he said.
Students from nearby Harmony School walked to the Police Department to put flowers, cards and a banner on the car.
Teaching assistant Jata Rogers said most of the children had already heard the news the day before, but it was important for them to talk about it.
“When things happen in the community, we discuss them,” she said. “Obviously, it was sad. We talked about the tragedy behind it. We believe it’s not a good idea to shelter kids from the truth because this is the world we live in.”
Harmony School teacher Jennifer Mancke recalled meeting Alia about two weeks ago to discuss appearing in a classroom.
“I pulled over and I asked them if they would come and talk to the kids about memorizing their contact information,” she said. “I’m really big on knowing how to get a hold of your parents. I hadn’t made the date with them yet, but we were going to do that.”
Third-grader Kaiser Schofield wore a sticker in the shape of a police badge, given to him by Police Chief Gene Sealy. Kaiser said he gave a special message to police officers and Alia.
“I said, ‘We will remember you for your bravery,’” he said. “I think he protected us.”
Third-grader Macy How said she and her fellow students also talked about the importance of forgiveness.
“We want to write to (Hall) to tell him we’re not mad at him,” Macy said.
Terry Bixby came to the Police Department with her husband, Greg, to pay their respects to the fallen officer.
Terry, who works at the Original Pancake House, near the department’s headquarters, said Alia and other officers would come into the restaurant to eat. She said she was devastated when she heard he had been killed.
“We were just stunned, because we knew him,” she said. “He comes into the restaurant. ... Everybody was in disbelief that it would happen.”
Greg Bixby said the recent bad publicity about law enforcement can skew the public’s perception.
“People have got to remember that it’s not a one-sided thing,” he said. “A policeman is always more likely in danger than the public. Sadly, this is one of those reminders.”
Several area restaurants paid their respects by dropping off food for officers and family, including Gary Seawell.
Seawell, one of the owners of Seawell’s Food Caterers, said he grew up in Forest Acres, so he and his family felt compelled to donate food to help comfort those in mourning.
“My family has always been pro-law enforcement,” he said. “We always felt like those ladies and men put their lives on the line every day. ... They get gunned down for no apparent reason. It’s a sad case.”
Lewis said seeing the outpouring of support from the community was comforting in a time of sadness.
“People are showing their love for Greg, for his family and for the Police Department,” he said.
A fraternity brother of Alia’s started the Greg Alia Memorial Fund on GoFundMe.com, which has raised more than $145,000 in less than two days.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., spoke on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon about Alia. He stood next to a photo of the late officer, calling him one of the state’s most amazing heroes.
“Greg was the embodiment of bravery and heroism,” Scott said. “Greg was doing what he was wired to do.”
Scott said he spoke with Alia’s wife, Kassy, Wednesday, saying her strength at this time was remarkable.
“We all stand in salute to Greg and making a promise to his wife, Kassy, that we will be there with her as she raises her son, Sal,” he said. “Our prayers and our thoughts are with his family.”
How to support the Alia family
Two online fundraising pages have been set up in honor of the Alia family on GoFundMe.com. The Greg Alia Memorial Fund was created by one of Alia’s fraternity brothers from Phi Sigma Kappa at the University of South Carolina. Additionally, the FARMA Supports the Alia Family page was created by the Forest Acres Restaurant and Merchant Association.
Funeral arrangements announced
Greg Alia will be remembered by friends, family, co-workers and strangers on Saturday.
The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church along Devine Street in Columbia.