Public safety workers huddled on one side of the lawn, looking to one another for support. People cracked jokes in an effort to keep from crying, with little success. Although candles were passed out, some residents brought their own and cut holes in the bottom of plastic cups, seemingly knowing the crowd would be bigger than expected.
The flowers nearly covered the large Aiken Public Safety marker on the front lawn. To the left was a framed photo of Richardson and, under that, a box for leaving donations for Richardson’s three small children.
On Dec. 20, Stephon Morrell Carter, 19, was out on bond from other charges when he was stopped by Aiken Public Safety officers at the entrance of Pace’s Run apartments on Brandt Court in Aiken, police said. In the shoot-out that ensued, Richardson, 33, was wounded and died later at Medical College of Georgia Hospital. Officer Travis Griffin, 28, was hit in the chest by gunfire but was saved by his bulletproof vest.
Surrounded Monday by the sounds of sniffles, Alexis Lamphere, 5, and Christian Lamphere, 7, made donations for Richardson’s three children, whom neither had met. Alexis is the same age as Richardson’s oldest, Zander. Widow Amelyn Richardson also has Chase, 4, and Maddox, 16 months. Many Aiken businesses are collecting money for the family.
Vigil organizers passed a clipboard with lined paper on it so participants could leave a note for Richardson’s widow and children.
The gathering – consisting of Richardson’s friends, co-workers and people in the community who had never met him – not only was about an officer lost but also was to thank those who sacrifice in the name of duty every day.
“It’s good to know people still care,” said North Augusta Public Safety Officer Mark Warchol.
One of the organizers, Lynne Tollison, did not know Richardson, but that did not stop her from walking into Aiken Public Safety headquarters and asking how she could help.
“After this happened, I knew they had to be overwhelmed,” she said. “I just wanted to help somehow, and I am very thrilled the way our community has come together here.”
The Rev. Daniel Braswell, of Foreman Memorial Baptist Church in New Ellenton, said: “I am here to give encouragement to the community. I want to help them through the grieving in any small way I can. Our law enforcement needs all the encouragement they can get right now.”
Braswell read a few Bible passages and led a prayer. He then opened it up for anyone to speak about Richardson. Public Safety Chaplain Tad Marshall said a few words.
“Our community is safer, and we have a better life because of the public safety officers,” he said. “You are world-class professional people.”
The crowd sang Amazing Grace, and Tollison added a few words directed toward the officers in the gathering.
“Thank you,” she said. “Those are just the simple words. Thank you.”