Friday marks one year since Forest Acres police officer Greg Alia was shot and killed while responding to a suspicious person call at Richland Mall.
Then came the deadly flood in October. Amid the chaos, the young officer’s wife, Kassy Alia, worked to honor his memory by founding the nonprofit Heroes In Blue.
The organization’s mission is twofold. It supports the families of officers killed in the line of duty. And it promotes good relationships between police and the communities they serve.
Here are four people who are helping – or have been helped by – the organization.
THE OFFICER’S BROTHER
That came as a surprise to the fallen officer’s family, her younger brother Joe Case told The State newspaper. Kassy Alia tracked him down on Facebook after his sister’s funeral in Michigan.
“I didn’t know there was any organization for anything like that,” Case said. “I never thought about the families of officers who passed needing any assistance.”
Sharing the loss of a loved one in blue helped him relate to her, Case said. Now, the two keep in touch on Facebook about once a month – each checking occasionally to see how the other is holding up.
THE OFFICER’S WIFE
Shannon Williamson, 26, knows what it’s like to love a police officer on a small-town force. Her husband just made corporal at the Springdale Police Department in Lexington County. But even in a town of less than 3,000 people, Williamson feels the strain of the bad press law enforcement has received in recent years.
“I know my husband, and it hurts me when I see that somebody would want to judge my husband based on the uniform that he’s wearing over who he is as a person,” she said.
Williamson feels a strong connection to Kassy Alia. They met in May at a pancake supper at Eggs Up Grill in Lexington. She burst into tears, she said, thinking about how similar the newly widowed woman’s life was to her own.
“Her worst fear came true,” Williamson said. “Her husband left for work that morning and she said, ‘OK I’ll see you when you get home’ – she probably said that – and she never saw him again.”
Not only were both women married to South Carolina cops at small departments, but they shared the bond of motherhood as well. The Alias’ son, Sal, was just six months old when his father was killed.
“My son was 1 at the time,” Williamson said. “My heart just burst for her.”
Sgt. Jessica Velders, 36, has been with the University of South Carolina Police Department for almost 10 years. She started volunteering with Heroes In Blue after attending Greg Alia’s funeral.
“I believe in what Kassy is doing,” Velders said. “I wanted to get involved in more ways than just inside work.”
Her work with Heroes In Blue has given her a chance to connect with people while out of uniform. Sometimes, she said, folks are surprised to find out she’s an officer.
“I’m hoping through this, people will see police in a different light,” she said. “They’ll see we’re human – we put our pants on the same way they do.”
Robert Liner, 34, is now a deputy with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. But a year ago, he was one of Greg Alia’s fellow cops in Forest Acres.
“During that time when our wives were pregnant, we had more and more in common,” Liner said. “We’d get together and talk about our wives, talk about becoming dads (and) so forth.”
Other than the officers already at the scene, Liner was the first to arrive after Greg Alia was shot. “It’s one of those things you never want to go through,” he said.
Seeing Kassy Alia form Heroes In Blue, Liner said, he realized she’s providing an important service to other folks who find themselves in her situation and might need advice or structure in their grieving.
Spouses often “don’t really have people – other than at their department and (their own) close friends,” he said.
Heroes In Blue has been hard at work since Forest Acres officer Greg Alia was killed Sept. 30, 2015. Here is the fundraising the nonprofit has undertaken in that time:
▪ At the Feed An Officer Campaign on Dec. 14, Heroes In Blue partnered with 10 local restaurants to raise enough money to provide lunch to 210 officers across 14 local stations. The nonprofit also raised more than $3,500 in gift certificates distributed to officers and their families, and delivered meals to two local shelters.
▪ Through T-shirt sales in November and December, Heroes In Blue raised $1,232 for the family of fallen Columbia police officer Stacy Case.
▪ Heroes In Blue coordinated a GoFundMe campaign for the family of slain Greenville police officer Allen Jacobs, raising more than $193,000. Heroes In Blue also sold T-shirts at SC Police Olympics, raising $352, and delivered cards from community members to Jacobs’ colleagues.
▪ Through T-shirt sales in May, Heroes In Blue raised $733 for the family of Charleston deputy Jared Murphy, who died of a heart attacked while on duty. The nonprofit also delivered cards from community members to Murphy’s colleagues.
Heroes In Blue started in Forest Acres, but founder Kassy Alia has said she hopes to expand across the state and even nationwide. The first step of that expansion is in motion.
Morgan Liner, wife of a Forest Acres cop turned Greenville County deputy, is at the helm.
“I think as law enforcement spouses, it’s easy for us to see news stories and focus on the negative, and get down on the profession and worry about our spouses all the time,” she said.
“I think the Heroes in Blue foundation has been a really good outlet for us and a good way for us to see the good things that are going on in our community.”
Though Heroes In Blue sprang from the death of Greg Alia and the efforts of his wife in the aftermath, Kassy Alia said it has become much more than that.
“I couldn’t do any of this without my team,” she said. “Perhaps I was the catalyst for this, but the success has much more to do with the fact that I think most people support police and want to call for positive change.
Knight of Honor event to recognize area heroes
Heroes In Blue’s inaugural Knight of Honor event this fall will recognize law enforcement and citizen heroes in an Oct. 7 fundraiser.
Midlands law enforcement and citizen heroes will be knighted for compassionate and selfless acts of service. One outstanding officer will receive the Officer Gregory Alia Award, and one citizen will be given the Citizen Hero Award, to be presented by special guest and former USC football standout Marcus Lattimore.
A majority of funds raised during the event will go toward the Heroes In Blue Compassionate Acts Grant Program.
In the spirit of the medieval theme, the event at Columbia’s Rockbridge Club will feature wild boar, beer and wine. Dress is medieval themed or cocktail attire. Tickets are $75 for the event, which runs 7-11 p.m.