Five months after Columbus Police Officer Suzanne P. Huffman fell to her death on Pigeon Mountain, more than 80 people gathered at the Government Center Wednesday to remember Huffman and 34 other city employees who died in 2015.
The 4:30 p.m. Memorial Tribute on the plaza level was a chance for family members or city employees to place a white carnation in a vase to remember each fallen employee. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson handed family members a plaque to recognize their service to the city.
It was a difficult day for Police Lt. Joyce Dent-Fitzpatrick who was in recruiting when Huffman was hired more than six years ago and later served as her supervisor in the Patrol Services Division.
“The first time is just hard,” Dent-Fitzpatrick said of the memorial. “ I try to keep from crying.”
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The 40-year-old mother of five boys including a set of twins, Huffman had 6.5 years with the department when she died Oct. 10, 2015 in North Georgia just south of Chattanooga, Tenn.
Dent-Fitzpatrick recalled how she heard about the death of a woman without knowing it was a Columbus officer. She was out of town when a member of her prayer group at Chattahoochee Valley Church of Christ called her to start praying for a woman who had fallen.
“I said I wonder if that woman from North Georgia is alright,” she said. “I never thought about Suzanne Huffman with five boys.”
The lieutenant said her phone was ringing off the hook the next morning. With the officer’s phone number available, Dent-Fitzpatrick said she dialed the number but there was no answer.
She later found part of the answer about the death online. The tragedy was confirmed later by her supervisor.
“It was just unreal,” she said. “ She was in school, she was about to graduate. She had everything going for her.”
When Dent-Fitzpatrick saw Huffman’s name on the tribute, she knew she had to place the flower in the vase for Huffman.
From the day she went through the recruiting office to her short time with the department, Huffman was destined to become a good police officer, Dent-Fitzpatrick said. “She is not going to be forgotten,” she said. “As long as we are here, we are always going to keep that name alive.”
At the end of the tribute, Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin placed remembrance flowers at the memorial in front of the Government Center.