Updated: Jun 16
By Joe Johnson
I met Rebecca Croxton in the summer of 2003, soon after I arrived in Athens.
The 26-year veteran of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department died unexpectedly this week.
In recalling the first time that I saw "Becky," as she was known by friends, she was a striking presence as she sat in the Magistrate Court witness box, smartly dressed in a business suit, and confidently providing testimony during a murder defendant's probable cause hearing.
Afterwards and when introducing myself, she asked me to call her Becky and I found that she was not as unapproachable as I imagined she might be.
Far from being coldly business-like as many police officers are in their interactions with members of the press, Becky seemed genuinely glad to meet me and she asked questions about myself. We found commonality in both being Georgia transplants - she from California and I from New York.
Our paths would cross many times over the years at crime scenes, as I was the crime reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald, and she was a member of the ACCPD Forensics Unit and later a detective. However unlikely, we might end up discussing literature - our favorite novels and authors - just as much as the murder that had occurred where were talking.
Becky earned a bachelor's degree in English literature at the University of Georgia, and never tired talking about her love for reading.
"There was magic in books, worlds to be discovered," she once told me.. "For me, at least, the thought that someone created words and put them together on paper to take me to Middle Earth or another planet was the height of mankind's ability."
Another side this officer allowed me to know was the deep compassion she had for people who were suffering or less fortunate than was she. Perhaps that came from some very bad experiences of her own, both as a child and an adult, about which she confided.
When a friend became sick or injured, Becky was usually the first to visit them with a supply of comfort food that she quickly made, and would stay for as long as it took until she was certain that her friend would be alright for the rest of that day.
Despite her many admirable traits, Becky was first and foremost a police officer and very much proud of it. She saw criminal forensics as both a public service and a challenge.
"Take a 1,000-piece puzzle, mix it up, throw it in the air and then throw away the box with the picture on it of what it is supposed to look like," she explained. "That is what working a crime scene is like.
"You are recreating this event, this horrible happening, and all you have are the physical pieces of evidence that are around you in a given area," she said. "It's methodical to the point of idiocy, and absolutely vital. It's frustrating and rewarding and the best job in law enforcement."
The most enduring image that I will always have of Becky is a photograph that was taken by ABH photographer David Mannning. It was at the scene of a triple shooting in which an infant was in the same room where were an uncle had killed her mother.
In the photo, Becky looks down with sadness and love at the child who was being cradled in the officer's arms.
The photo subsequently became iconic within ACCPD, which even used it on recruitment brochures.
Reflecting on that day in 2010, Becky recalled that she first questioned why a paramedic had given her the child to carry away from the crime scene.
"I hated that the thought came to me, 'Did she have blood or something on her that I needed to collect?'" she said. "But my thought was that we had to get justice for (the child) and that meant doing things I didn't want to do, that most people would find impossible.
"And when I was done I wrapped her up and held her. ... I'll admit I cried a little while I held her walking her to her father, and I'm not ashamed to admit it, though it certainly doesn't fit with the tough chick image."
Rest in peace, Senior Police Officer Rebecca Croxton.