The funeral for Deonn Carter, the beloved autistic shooting victim whose untimely death rocked the Columbus community, drew hundreds of public safety personnel to Cascades Hills Church for a homegoing fit for a fallen comrade.
Public Safety honor guards saluted as Carter’s family filed solemnly into the sanctuary. At the front was an opal blue casket draped with custom-made afghan blankets from the Columbus Police Department and the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office. Atop the casket lay a floral arrangement accented with a firefighter’s helmet, a wide-brimmed police hat and a police badge.
Relatives seated in the front row included Carter’s mother, Suzette Ragland; his father, Freddie Carter; and his sister, Kimillia Carter. Bishop L.D. Skinner Sr., the Rev. Adrian Chester and Pastor Chase Welch officiated the service. Welch presented the eulogy, describing Carter as a man who held no malice and had forgiven those who shot him before he died.
Among those who attended the funeral Friday were Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Police Chief Ricky Boren.
“We are all here today because we were touched by a man, a man who truly loved everybody,” said Welch, the pastor of Love Revolution Church, where Carter served as a deacon. “Only love could bring this many different kinds of people together. I’m talking about people of different classes, if there’s even such a thing; people of different ages; people of different races, ethnicities; people of different denominations and political backgrounds.
“God chose him in his mother’s womb to teach people in this city of Columbus, Georgia, and around the world, how to love everybody and point people to Jesus Christ, and my, my, my, did he do a wonderful job,” the pastor continued. “We don’t always know why bad things happen to good people. But in this case, we have some strong evidence. God never wastes a hurt. He never wastes a tragedy. He never wastes pain.”
Lt. Chuck Herlth, of the Columbus Fire and EMS, could hardly hold back tears as he described Carter’s impact on the public safety community.
“If God sent an angel to walk among us, he would share loving kindness to everybody he met. That sounds like Deonn,” he said. “He would offer words of encouragement and support in times of trouble. Sounds like Deonn. He would take every opportunity to preach the word of the Lord to anyone who came around him at any time. And again, sounds like Deonn. The only thing Deonn was missing was his wings, and I believe he’s got them now.”
Carter, a friend of local police officers, firefighters and other public servants, died Aug. 20 at Midtown Medical Center, 11 days after he was shot during an armed robbery attempt outside of the Parkside at Britt David Apartments on Armour Road.
A preliminary autopsy determined that the cause of death was deep vein thrombosis due to a gunshot wound, according to Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan.
Just hours before his funeral, Columbus police announced that Tyquez D. Davis, 18, and Travarus Thomas, 20, both had been charged with murder in connection with Carter’s death. Police also issued murder warrants for three other teens, Tauron Stepney, 18; Quamaine Thomas, 18, and Dequoyae Waldon, 22. The three suspects not in police custody are considered armed and dangerous, police said.
Carter’s family, led by police motorcade, arrived at the church just before 1 p.m. They met a crowd of people in the parking lot, which was packed with police cars, fire trucks and other public safety vehicles.
“The number of public safety officers that Deonn touched just goes on and on,” said Maj. J.D. Hawk of the Columbus Police Department. “And then the people that he touched just within the community. He was just the kid that brightened up everybody when he talked to them.”
Columbus Firefighter Benjamin Burdette said he met Carter while shopping at the Piggly Wiggly on River Road, where Deonn was a bagger and stocker. He said Carter knew everyone in the fire department, what stations and squads they belonged to, and their families, and he would call to check on them daily.
“When Deonn would call, we were able to forget the stresses of our day and just relax for a few minutes and talk with him,” he said. “He made us better people by loving us, and we in turn loved others better.”
Burdette said on the day that “Deonn was called to be with the Lord,” he and his crew were at the hospital to present him with a special helmet on behalf of the fire department. The helmet tied together some of Carter’s favorite things such as the Georgia Bulldog and a Christian cross. It had a tag designating Carter an honorary firefighter and chaplain.
“We were unable to present it to him,” Burdette said. “But we praise God for putting us there at that moment with his mother. We were able to comfort her at her most difficult time.”
At the end of the funeral, Burdette presented Carter’s family with the fire helmet and a plaque with a picture of the 2008 Bibb Mill fire. Burdette said there was an image in the flames reflecting the likeness of God.
Officer Justin Evans spoke on behalf of the Columbus Police Department. He said he worked security at Piggly Wiggly and Carter would wait for him to show up after finishing his shift. He would ask about everyone in the police department, especially the motor squad.
Evans said Carter was selected to be an honorary member of the squad a couple of years ago. His was assigned to the crossing in front of Wal-Mart during an air show. Police gave Carter a motor squad hat, and he even had his own vest and whistle as time went on.
“He had an assigned post and worked tirelessly with the other motor officers assisting the citizens in Columbus safely cross the street, and always offering an infectious smile,” Evans said. “He was the first to arrive and the last to leave the scene.
“If anyone wanted to know if there were any personnel changes in the department, they would consult Deonn,” he said as the audience chuckled. “Deonn was pretty accurate.”
At the end of the service, the Public Safety honor guard marched to the front of the sanctuary to present Carter with honors. Herlth said a bell usually rings four times to signal the end of a fire, and the sound of the bell rang four times through the sanctuary.
“Honorary firefighter Deonn Carter has completed his task,” Herlth said. “His duties were well done. The bell rings four times for our comrade’s last alarm. He has finally come home.”