Outside a modest house at the end of a short driveway in Hephzibah hangs a blue-and-white wreath. Each car in the driveway proudly displays a thin blue line decal. Inside the front door, the first piece of furniture is a motorcycle helmet encased in glass.
The house holds grieving parents, Wayne and Anita Paugh. The house is flanked by two others holding grieving brothers, Robert and John Paugh.
Nearly two months after he was killed, Richmond County Deputy James D. Paugh’s family is still struggling. Tears interrupt their words frequently.
Shortly after 1 a.m. on Oct. 23, Paugh stopped to check on a suspicious vehicle in the grass on the shoulder of Bobby Jones Expressway. Within seconds, he was shot nine times with an assault rifle by Army Spc. Christopher Michael Hodges, 26, before Hodges turned the weapon on himself. The coroner pronounced them both dead at the scene.
Paugh’s family has questions, but they also are not sure whether they want the answers. What they want is the pride and closeness that Augusta felt so strongly about the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to continue.
“J.D.’s phenomenon will fade over time. I understand that,” Robert Paugh said. “But let’s not let the respect and the honor for the police fade, ever.”
He said his brother would have been embarrassed over all the fuss Augusta made about him.
“I think the only thing J.D. would be upset about was that Augusta had one of the biggest funerals ever, and he wasn’t out front on his motorcycle,” he said.
J.D. Paugh’s decision to become a police officer was not a surprise to his family. When he was 28, he was working with his father and brother in New Orleans putting in fiberoptic cables for AT&T. He was in charge of scheduling the police officers for the site, and through that became close with them. One day, they made him an honorary deputy.
“He got to run with the police,” Robert said. “He was never the same after that. He had found something that he really wanted to do.”
His decision to join the motorcycle division was something Robert thinks had to do with the accessibility it gave him to people.
“He was able to interact with people in a way that the guys in the cars couldn’t really do,” Robert said. “He loved that.”
Robert said his brother would come home from work to his apartment building and rev the engine twice in the parking lot; all the children would come running out. He wanted to make sure that children saw the police as normal guys, not just a uniform that hauls people off to jail.
Someone put posters up at Paugh’s apartment building after he was killed, and the children in the building wrote messages on them. The signatures only went up about three-quarters the way up the door, as high as they could reach.
“One child wrote he wanted to be a policeman, just like J.D.,” his mother said.
The Paughs have been able to use their closeness to lean on one another and help grieve, but the people of Augusta have wanted to step in and help with that, too.
Robert said that sometimes when he is out and people see his last name, they wonder whether they should say something.
“It is very emotional,” he said. “But it is also good to know how many people J.D. touched.”
The funeral was emotional for Paugh’s family, not just because of what it was, but because of the community reaction.
On the way to the funeral, Robert said, there were so many people standing on the side of the road that it was overwhelming. He recalled driving by a man who was mowing his lawn on his riding mower. When the resident saw their car, he turned off his mower, got off and stood next to it.
“I never could have dreamed of what everybody did for him,” his mother said. “Flags at half-mast, blue ribbons everywhere. Signs are still up to this day.”
As a family, the Paughs have made the decision not to be bitter, not to hold on to the negative emotions that could easily come with such a violent act. The reality that Hodges is gone leaves some questions unanswerable, though.
“There are questions I wish we could ask the guy. Why?” Robert said. “I wish he would have had the courage to stand up and explain why.”
Instead, they choose to focus on helping one another heal and on protecting Paugh’s legacy and his love for the department.
“It’s like people say,” Robert Paugh said. “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. After J.D. became a cop, he never worked another day.”