The death of Georgia police officer Antwan Toney united a community in grief.
As CNN reports, Toney, who had just celebrated his 30th birthday, was an officer with the Gwinnett County Police Department. Originally from Southern California, Toney had been with the department for about three years and was well-liked and respected for his dedication and “jovial” demeanor.
In October, Toney was responding to a call about a suspicious car in a middle school parking lot when the occupant of the car shot him. While Toney’s partner dragged him away, the officer later died at the hospital.
Toney’s funeral was accompanied by an outpouring of grief and support. The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook:
We’ve never seen a greater show of community support than we did as Officer Toney’s family led the procession following his memorial service. Amazing citizens lined the streets for miles and miles. We saw people on crutches, in wheelchairs and holding canes standing outside for hours to pay their respects. We saw school children whose parents signed them out of school to honor our slain brother.
Then came one more gesture, from an unexpected source. Sheriff Butch Conway received a letter of condolence from his own jail. A group of approximately 20 Gwinnett County inmates wrote to share their sorrow at Toney’s death and their support for all those who serve.
The Sherriff’s Office shared the letter on Facebook. It began by offering condolences to the Toney family and the police brotherhood on behalf of the writer and a group of prisoners at Gwinnett County Detention Center. It continued:
This was a tragic incident that never should have occurred. And though law enforcement and criminals may be considered opposites, the intrinsic value of a human life transcends those boundaries by far. Right is right and wrong is wrong. No matter the color uniform.
It is from this standpoint, in a spirit of gratitude and utmost respect, that I submit this letter to honor all police officers, military personnel, and first responders. Your service and sacrifice make the world a better place for all.
The letter concluded with a quote from the Bible and the hope that it would, “serve to bring healing, restoration, and forgiveness to the lives of all those affected by the loss of this officer.”
Leroy Dollar, the inmate who wrote the letter, told Fox 5 what motivated them to send it:
“I think it comes down to trying to express the fact that we’re human and we have compassion.”
The inmates say the lessons on strength and compassion they’ve gleaned during Bible study also played an important role. Inmate Tarazzo Anderson told Fox 5, “To me, the letter was about character and integrity for us in the system.”
Though the letter was originally intended to be private, the response was so positive that the inmates allowed it to be shared publicly. On Facebook, the Sheriff’s Office wrote that, “we’re deeply appreciative of this act of kindness from these men. We think that Officer Toney would also be appreciative of their actions and we hope you are, too.”
In the comments, it’s clear that the letter touched those who read it. Many weighed in to share their thoughts on the letter and the loss of Officer Toney.
One of those responding was Toney’s sister, who wrote, “My God!!! This is amazing!! My brother is definitely smiling!! Thank you for sharing, continuing to honor, and keep Antwan’s memory alive!”
The Sheriff’s Office responded, “Sherry, these inmates’ greatest wish was that their words would reach Officer Toney’s family. They were glad when I told them that you saw their letter on our page. […] Your family is never out of our thoughts and prayers.”
The inmates didn’t want to discuss their crimes, saying only that their own mistakes or shortcomings had brought them there. More important was how the letter helped them make an impact, despite where they are right now. Dollar told Fox 5:
“It gave me an opportunity to express what I felt inside something that was positive. And why is that important from a place like this? Well if you can do it from here you can do it from anywhere.”