Thousands of law enforcement members lined the streets of two Southern U.S. cities on Monday to honor the lives of two veteran police officers who were shot to death in the line of duty over the span of six days.
Biloxi, Mississippi, police Officer Robert McKeithen and Savannah police Sgt. Kelvin Ansari were both killed in ambush shootings while serving their respective communities. Both men were described as a dedicated police officers who had served their cities and country with honor.
Before donning a law enforcement badge, Ansari had served in the U.S. Army while McKeithen had been a member of the U.S. Air Force.
Both men were in their uniforms and on the job when they were gunned down. McKeithen was killed on May 5 when he was ambushed and shot to death in front of the Biloxi police headquarters, allegedly by 19-year-old Darian Tawan Atkinson. On Saturday night, Ansari lost his life when he and another officer were fired on as they approached a car that had been involved in an earlier robbery.
In Biloxi, a sea of officers filled the First Baptist Church Monday for the McKeithen's funeral.
"He knew the dangers of the job and he did it bravely because he was called to a life of service," Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves told McKeithen's friends, family and colleagues, who packed the service, including McKeithen's wife, Pamela, and his four children.
Biloxi Police Chief John Miller described McKeithen, 58, who was planning to retire at the end of this year after 24 years on the police force, as being "proud of his family, proud of his profession, and he was proud of his appearance."
"He kept a shine on his boots and that uniform had be just so," Miller said. "Robert tempered that pride with humility and compassion and that was apparent by the way he did his job and the way he treated the people around him and the way people responded to him. Robert was kind and easy to talk to."
While he said he wanted to focus on how McKeithen lived his life, Miller briefly noted how the officer died.
"So we asked ourselves why such a man would be taken so quickly...and in such a horrible, horrible way. Well, I prayed about that and prayed about that, and in my mind, the answer came that God and God alone decides when we leave this Earth. No one else," Miller said.
"And this thug with a gun gets no credit, no credit for Robert's life at all," he said. "Misery and damnation are the only rewards for his decision."
Earlier on Monday in Savannah, Georgia, a police motorcade led a black hearse carrying the body of Sgt. Ansari, 50, from Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead early Sunday morning, to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab, where his autopsy is scheduled to be conducted.
Ansari's colleagues and hundreds of Savannah residents lined the procession route, many saluting and crying as the hearse passed by.
The procession was followed by a prayer service in front of the Savannah Police Department Headquarters, where colleagues and residents placed flowers and black bunting on Ansari's police cruiser.
“We lost a husband, we lost a father, we lost a leader," Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter said at a news conference Sunday night. "Sergeant Ansari is survived by his wife and four children between the ages of five and 25.”
Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach said Ansari paid the ultimate price for his community and noted that he had served in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years before becoming a police officer.
“Our community owes this man and all the men and women who wear the badge their depth of gratitude," DeLoach said at the news conference. "I’ve spoken to the officer’s widow and his family and I have assured them that I, the aldermen, and the entire city will do whatever we can to ease her pain as we mourn this loss together."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Sunday that the suspect in the fatal shooting of Ansari had also died from injuries suffered in Saturday night's gun battle. He was identified as 49-year-old Edward Fuller III.
Ansari, a 10-year member of the Savannah Police Department, and Officer Doug Thomas responded just after 8 p.m. on Saturday to a report that a car connected to an earlier robbery at a barbershop was spotted on a street near downtown Savannah, officials said. As the officers approached the suspicious vehicle, shots rang out.
The officers were not aware that Fuller was in the vehicle, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the probe in keeping with the protocol for police-involved shootings. When they approached, Fuller allegedly exited the car and "immediately began firing," striking Ansari and Thomas, officials said.
Fuller allegedly fled the scene on foot to the backyard of a nearby home, authorities said. When responding officers found him, he allegedly emerged from a shed and pointed a handgun at the officers, prompting one officer to fire his weapon, authorities said.
Fuller was struck and later died at a local hospital.
McKeithen and Ansari are the 17th and18th U.S. law enforcement officer shot to death in the line of duty this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. Three officers have been shot to death this month.