A few days ago, Anita Paugh accidentally drove past the Georgia-Carolina State Fair off Hale Street. She was taken aback when she realized it was a year since she had lost her son.
“The fair brings up hard memories,” she said. “That was where he was coming from when it happened.”
Tuesday will mark a year since the night that Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy James “JD” Paugh worked his last special assignment. He was on his way home from the fair about 1:30 a.m. when he pulled his motorcycle onto the side of Bobby Jones Expressway to check on a vehicle that had perched on a patch of grass near Gordon Highway.
Christopher Michael Hodges, 26, who was drunken and arguing with his girlfriend, immediately fired at the deputy with an assault rifle. After killing the deputy, Hodges took his own life.
“He did not even get his kickstand down before he was in a fight for his life,” said the slain man’s brother, Robert.
The year has gone by both fast and slow for Paugh’s mother and brother. Both believe it has been the most emotionally exhausting time of their lives. There have been many fundraisers and memorial events. The family has traveled to Forsyth, Ga., Florida and Washington, D.C., for memorials. Both have been invited on retreats for siblings and parents of slain officers. There have been dinners, lunches, motorcycle rides and celebrations.
The constant events and appearances have been humbling, they said. Robert Paugh said he understands that it is not just his family who lost JD, but the city of Augusta. He frequently is told stories about his brother from strangers, giving him some of the best moments in the past year.
During the Masters Tournament in April, he and his family took on one of his brother’s yearly traditions, cooking for all the deputies working specials at the course. Paugh said JD would work out the menu well ahead of time and get donations from everyone for supplies. Then he would spend the week cooking for his co-workers.
At this year’s event, a patron approached him and asked whether he had known the officer who used to put on the cookout. Before Paugh could answer, the man told him how much he liked his brother.
“It’s things like that. He wasn’t trying to flatter me; he didn’t know who I was,” he said. “That’s just the kind of person JD was. He was everybody’s.”
Paugh knows that his brother meant a lot to everyone he worked with because he is often told by deputies how dedicated JD was. One of them, Investigator Charles Mulherin, rode next to Paugh on the department’s motorcycle division and was on the bomb squad when Paugh tried out for it.
“It’s really hard to put JD
into words,” he said. “But I think he was underestimated.”
Mulherin said Paugh was so friendly and disarming, and even a little goofy, that sometimes people forgot how much he really loved being an officer. When he tried out for the bomb squad, he aced every test.
“I think people were really surprised at that,” Mulherin said. “He was so much fun, but he took his job very seriously.”
Paugh and his mother know that after the anniversary of JD’s death their lives will be less hectic, and in some ways, they are looking forward to the peace. Paugh has had constant reminders of his brother. He hopes the time out of the spotlight might give them time to heal.
Tears are still close to the surface for all of them, although Paugh said different things set him off now.
“It’s the little things, the little moments that you have with him,” he said. “When it’s going to end, I don’t know.”
Paugh acknowledged he struggles with not getting to say goodbye to his brother.
He’s also angry at Hodges for killing himself. Paugh said his faith tells him Hodges has been judged, but inside he still wants his brother’s killer to suffer. He also knows his brother would want his family to move on. JD would expect them to be strong and help one another remember the good things about his life.
“I want to keep his memory and legacy alive,” Paugh said. “I think people are becoming more aware through JD what our officers do. He would have liked that.”