A second Georgia police officer died Thursday, a day after being shot alongside a fellow officer who was a lifelong friend, and the hunt for the suspected gunman ended when a SWAT team found the fugitive dead — apparently by his own hand — inside a home where he was hiding.
Officer Jody Smith initially clung to life after being gravely wounded Wednesday when the university officer went to help his friend, Americus Officer Nicholas Smarr, respond to a domestic dispute call at an apartment in rural Americus, about 130 miles south of Atlanta.
Both men were shot. Smarr was killed and Smith was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital in Macon. The university that employed Smith announced Thursday evening that he had died.
“Officer Smith showed extreme bravery in the line of duty as he responded to a call for backup,” Georgia Southwestern University President Charles Patterson said in a statement.
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News of Smith’s death came a few hours after the hunt for the suspected gunman ended.
Police offered a $70,000 reward for information leading to the capture of 32-year-old Minquell Lembrick. A telephone tip Thursday morning sent them to a home where the suspect was said to be hiding, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Nelly Miles said.
SWAT officers emerged from the home shortly after entering. Americus Police Chief Mark Scott told a news conference they found Lembrick’s body inside. He said the first officers on scene heard a gunshot inside before the SWAT team arrived.
Lembrick died from “what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Scott said, adding the man was positively identified as Lembrick.
Lembrick had an outstanding arrest warrant charging him with kidnapping and other counts when Smarr and Smith encountered him Wednesday morning at an apartment complex where a domestic dispute had been reported, Scott had said previously. But the officers didn’t know whom they were dealing with when they responded to the 911 call.
Smith and Smarr had been friends since grade school and were sharing a home in Sumter County at the time of the shooting, said Lt. Chuck Hanks of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, where both had worked previously as deputies.
So when Smith heard the domestic violence call and that Smarr was en route, he ran to join him even though other Americus police officers were already on the way, Chief Scott said.
“He heard that call over the radio and he took it upon himself to respond and back up his friend,” Scott said. “I can’t say enough about them. They are model officers. They’re both heroes in my opinion.”
Sumter County Sheriff Pete Smith told reporters both officers were engaged to be married to their fiancees in the coming months.
“It’s tough,” Hanks said. “We’re a small community. You see these people every day. You work with them every day.”
Authorities initially gave different spellings for the first names of both Smith and Lembrick, but said Thursday that they had confirmed corrected spellings for each. Lembrick was black and both officers were white, but nothing indicates race was a factor in the shootings, said Miles of the GBI.
Within an hour of the shootings Wednesday, posts on Lembrick’s Facebook page appeared to indicate he didn’t want to be taken alive. One message posted from the account read: “other life gone not going to jail.”
It was soon followed by a four-second Facebook Live video showing a young man partly concealed by shadows saying, “I’m gonna miss y’all folk, man.”
Miles with the GBI confirmed the Facebook page was Lembrick’s. It was taken down soon after the messages were posted.