By Joe Johnson
Athens lost a true buddy ten years ago today.
His name was Elmer Basco Christian III, but to everyone who knew him he was simply known as Buddy. As a police officer he was well-liked both by colleagues within the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, and by people in the community he served, known for his kind nature and willingness to give a helping hand.
As an ACCPD senior police officer assigned to the Uniform Patrol Division, Christian was killed in the line of duty on March 22, 2011, shot to death by an armed robbery and kidnapping suspect who had already shot and wounded one of Christian’s co-workers.
He was the first ACCPD officer to be killed in the line of duty since the governments of the city of Athens and Clarke County consolidated in 1991. The last Athens officer to have been fatally shot in the line of duty was Athens Police Department Officer Donald Moon in 1963.
The following was written by Melissa Christian-Griffeth in reflection of the decade since her husband was slain:
That number seems so unfathomable.
March 22 has always been a very hard day, and a day of much anticipated dread. But, the thought of it being 10 years is a number that seems to engulf me. I have dreaded the thought of it being 10 years for some time now. A decade, it just seems like a passage of time that is impossible.
On one hand I feel strong, because I once thought I would not make it a single day. But now that I have made it 10 years, it seems crazy that I’d felt that way. I have raised two beautiful loving children who know their dad in heaven loves them very much. Yes, they have witnessed tragedy first hand, but they are not bitter. They are thriving knowing that they will see him again and they are loved.
On the other hand, it is unbearably sad. It’s like a bottomless hole that wants me to suck me in if I dwell on it too much. There have been 10 years of missed birthdays. Wyatt spent just two with his dad, and Callie had only five. There were missed Christmas mornings, Easter celebrations, kindergarten graduations, tooth fairy visits, and on and on.
Buddy was not there when the children were baptized. He never saw either of them play a sport, or have a role in a school play. He never got to go with Callie to the father daughter banquet, or watch in admiration and pride as she got ready for her first homecoming.
Now that Callie is 15, Buddy will never get to teach her to drive. All the aspirations he had for his son he never got to enjoy. He never saw Wyatt hit a baseball or score a winning basket in basketball. He was only able to enjoy his children as toddlers, never as tweens, teenagers, or adults. He was robbed of their entire lives with him.
Those are the thoughts that are so incredibly painful. Buddy was a loving, wonderful, proud father that never got to enjoy the things he should have. And, Callie and Wyatt have no idea what they have missed. Callie has very few memories of her dad. She remembers him making her paper airplanes, flying kites, swinging, and blowing bubbles. Wyatt had memories for a long while, but sadly now says he has none. He has always enjoyed swinging and had said he remembers his dad when he does.
Buddy’s name is also on the National Police Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C, as well as the wall at the American Police Hall of Fame in Florida. His ways of helping others continues through the Buddy Christian Foundation. But all of these things are just stories to them. I can tell them of their dad forever, but they have very few of their own memories.
To me this year has many anniversaries that are extremely hard. We should have celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in February, and my mind drifted to all the things we might have done to celebrate. This year should be my 10th ride in the Police Unity Tour http://www.policeunitytourviii.org/ to honor Buddy. But due to the event being canceled last year Covid-19 it will be my 9th.
I miss Buddy’s face, his smile, his way of making others smile, his laugh, seeing him looking at his children, and I miss all the dreams we never had the chance to chase. I will never know how our life would have turned out. It was and is a mere dream in itself. I can dwell on it and think what if, and sometimes those thoughts make me smile and others it pains me too much to think about. I often remember two of the songs from his funeral and the reasons I chose them. “The Dance” I could have missed the pain, but I would have missed the dance. I am forever thankful for the Dance. “I Can Only Imagine” I am comforted to know that he is in the presence of our Lord, and that makes me smile to imagine all the wonder he is seeing and is a part of. I am also reminded of one of our wedding songs. “In This Life by Collin Raye” In this life I was loved by Buddy. I know how much he loved me every day, and I am thankful I was given the chance to love him every day from the moment we met in high school to the rest of his life.
What most sustains me and gets me through life without him is my faith. I know God is always with me. I know He was with Buddy on that awful day, and I know He welcomed him into heaven's gates with the words, "Well done my good and faithful servant”. I know that I will see him again one sweet day. I pray that he knows how wonderful his children are and gets to peek in on them from time to time. These two verses have been my go-to words when I am sad. Psalms 46:10 Be Still and Know That I Am God. God is there for me. I need only to trust Him and be still. Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. God has never left me, and He has given me a hope and a future. It may not be the plan I had, but it is His plan, and He will see me and the children through. I have a huge support system in my family and friends. They are always there for me.
We have been blessed with the addition to our family of David Griffeth, a friend and former coworker of Buddy’s at ACCPD. With David came his son, Mason. We have a second chance at building a future and chasing dreams. David loves us and dotes on the children as any dad would. He helps them with school projects, and attends all their sports activities. Callie and Wyatt are blessed to know the love of a dad who loves them from heaven, and to feel the love of a dad here every day. I am blessed to have been loved and am loved by two wonderful men.
The old saying that time heals all wounds is not true. March 22, will forever be a very painful and much dreaded day. The pain of losing Buddy will forever be a part of me, but I have learned to push those thoughts away and not dwell on them as I once did.
However, when I least expect it those memories and thoughts can come rushing upon me like crashing waves and take me right back to that very moment that my world was forever changed. Every happy moment and milestone are met with smiles and tears. Happy for the accomplishment and yet sad that Buddy has missed something else. I have not moved on, rather I have learned to live life a different way. An organization called Concerns Of Police Survivors (COPS)
https://www.concernsofpolicesurvivors.org/ has also played a huge role in my grief therapy. They are a national chapter with also a chapter in each state. They give us the opportunity to share with other survivors who have also lost a loved one in the line of duty. They offer retreats where the kids can meet and fellowship with other kids who have lost their dad or mom. They offer these types of retreats for everyone who has been affected by this loss. It gives us a chance to learn from others who have gone through this tragedy and also turn around and help others who must also walk this road. I pray that when I am old, I will look back and see that yes, I faced unfathomable tragedy, but this tragedy did not define me, yet it gave me wings to live a life knowing that love is forever and life is never easy, but the way I chose to live it by faith, hope, and love, with my goal to leave that example the legacy I hope to leave my children.