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Funeral services are set for murdered Lowndes County, Al sheriff, ‘Big John’ Williams

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We are sadden to report that Lowndes County, Alabama is mourning the senseless murder of Sheriff “Big John” Williams.

Sheriff “Big John” towered over this rural central Alabama county in more ways than one. He was shot and killed in the line of duty Saturday night in the parking lot of the QV convenience store. The store is on the main drag of this small hamlet, across the town square from the courthouse and down the street from Williams’ home.

“A good man lost his life for nothing, it’s just senseless,” said Steve Webb, a Lowndes County native. “It’s just senseless. The sheriff was a good man. He didn’t play any favorites. He didn’t care if you were black or white. He was a good man, and now he’s gone.”

Williams’ towering height gave him his nickname. A beloved lawman serving in his home county, he was also well-respected by the state’s law enforcement community.

Sheriff “Big John” Williams

He had an easy smile and a deep voice that he hardly ever raised. He didn’t have to.

“He was the sheriff,” said Eddie Lee “Jackpot” Grant, another Lowndes County native. “If he could help you, he would. Every time he would see you, he’d wave and speak. You know that voice he had.”

Hayneville, the county seat, is about 25 miles west of Montgomery, in the heart of the Black Belt. The county has a population of about 11,000. Williams regularly rode through the town and out in the county in his unmarked Chevy Tahoe. He would squawk the siren as he went by.

‘The sheriff is gone over loud music?’ Alabama sheriff shot and killed over loud music, witnesses and police say

“You see Big John, and he’d give you the whoop-whoop,” Grant said, smiling. “He’d never toot the horn, just the whoop-whoop. He let you know he was out doing his job. And now he’s gone.”

Details are sketchy as to what happened Saturday night. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is handling the investigation. ALEA labeled William Chase Johnson, 18, as a suspect in the shooting Saturday night. Williams was shot around 8:15 p.m. Johnson walked up to the crime scene just after midnight, firearm in hand, and gave himself up after a manhunt that went on for hours.

Chase Johnson mug shot

Charles Benson says he was a witness to the shooting of Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams.

ALEA hasn’t commented on whether Williams was in uniform or if he was driving a marked or unmarked vehicle. Johnson is housed in the Elmore County Jail, charged with murder, according to jail records. No bond has been set.

Law enforcement sources and witnesses said Williams approached a truck at the QV and asked the person inside why his music was so loud. That’s when Williams was shot once in the head.

Charles Benson said he witnessed it all.

“Right there at Pump 8,” Benson said, standing in front of the store. “Big John comes up and asks the young man about the loud music, just like he has done hundreds of times before. Big John don’t take no foolishness.

“That’s when he got shot. I don’t understand it. The sheriff is gone over loud music? It just don’t seem right.”

“I just don’t understand it,” Curtis Lee said, filling up Sunday at the QV. “When I heard it last night, I knew it wasn’t anybody from Lowndes County that would do such a thing. It had to be somebody from outside. Nobody in Lowndes County wants to hurt the sheriff. He’s part of the community.”

Across the street and behind the courthouse at the New Salem Christian Church, the Rev. Willie Smith got ready for services.

“It’s praying time,” Smith said. “The sheriff was our sheriff. It’s quite sad. He was a servant to the community, having grown up here and making his work law enforcement. He was spiritual man, a deacon in his church.

Rev. Willie Williams

“It’s praying time,” says the Rev.Smith. He says Sheriff John Williams “was a servant to the community.”

“When we had revival, the sheriff would lead devotions. He was just a good, good man. I don’t understand it. All I know is God is in control, God is in complete control.”

“We came up as deputies together,” said retired Prattville Police Chief Mark Thompson. “This is just devastating.”

Autauga County Sheriff Joe Sedinger described Williams as “a big teddy bear.”

“For his size, he was gentle,” Sedinger said. “He was full of compassion. He loved everybody. You just can’t say enough good things about John.”

Williams was always ready to come to the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, said Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin.

“Any time you needed help, John was there,” he said. “He was a friend to everyone.”

Chase Johnson being escorted into court

“I’m proud to say he was my friend,” Lowndes County District Judge Adrian Johnson said. “He didn’t care if you were black or white, rich or poor. He took care of people. He knew everyone in the county. He always had a smile, he was always ready to serve.

“This is just a tragic end to a fine, fine man,” Johnson said. “I just can’t imagine Lowndes County without John Williams.”

Sheriff “Big John” Williams

William Chase Johnson, 18, arrived escorted by four state troopers. He is the son of a sheriff’s deputy in neighboring Montgomery County. He was wearing black- and white-striped jail garb and was restrained in handcuffs and ankle chains. He appeared before Crenshaw County Circle Judge Tom Sport.

The entire process took less than five minutes. After Judge Sport told him of the murder charge against him, Johnson said he understood that charge and told the judge that he had not decided whether he was going to hire an attorney or need to have one appointed. Judge Sport set a no bond in the case. 

Usually, Lowndes County District Judge Adrian Johnson handles first appearances. But Johnson recused himself, citing his close personal relationship with Williams. 

Security was visibly heightened outside of the courthouse and inside in the courtroom itself. Uniformed and plainclothes officers were stationed throughout the courthouse. Several were seen carrying rifles or shotguns. Johnson is being housed in the Elmore County Jail.

Funeral services are officially set for Lowndes County sheriff, ‘Big John’ Williams.

A visitation and funeral will be held at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery on Monday, Dec. 2nd. Visitation will begin at 8 a.m. The funeral will follow the visitation at 11:00 a.m.

His body was being transported from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Montgomery to Bell Funeral Home in Hayneville.

A large procession of law enforcement vehicles escorted William’s body back home yesterday.

There was about twenty-four law enforcement vehicles from across the state in the procession to honor ‘Big John’ Williams.

Governor, Kay Ivey, has also ordered flags to be flown at half staff that day.

To our Prestige Family this one hits close to home for us, because we knew Big John. Please continue to keep his family in prayer, as well as the community of Lowndes County.

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U.S. Marines ID all 9 people killed in sea-tank sinking

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The U.S. Marine Corps has identified all nine people killed when a Marine landing craft sank in hundreds of feet of water off the Southern California coast.

Only one of their bodies was found, despite an intense days-long search involving helicopters and boats ranging from inflatables to a Navy destroyer.

Found at the scene was Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels Texas. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit announced on Sunday that the others, from California, Texas, Wisconsin and Oregon, are “presumed dead.”

They include: Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California.

“Literally every asset we have available” was mobilized in the search for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Friday.

They were aboard an amphibious assault vehicle that was heading back to a Navy ship Thursday evening after a routine training exercise when it began taking on water about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) from Navy-owned San Clemente Island, off San Diego.

Other assault vehicles quickly responded but couldn’t stop the 26-ton, tank-like vehicle from quickly sinking, Osterman said.

“The assumption is that it went completely to the bottom” several hundred feet below, Osterman said. That was too deep for divers, and Navy and Coast Guard were discussing ways to reach the sunken vehicle to get a view inside it, Osterman said.

Seven other Marines were rescued from the water; two were in stable condition at a hospital, authorities said.

All the Marines were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at nearby Camp Pendleton. They ranged in age from 19 to early 30s and all were wearing combat gear, including body armor, and flotation vests, Osterman said.

The vehicle, known as an AAV but nicknamed an “amtrac,” for “amphibious tractor” is used to take Marines and their gear from Navy ships to land.

The sunken craft, one of 13 involved in the exercise, was designed to be naturally buoyant and had three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches, Osterman said.

The vehicles have been used since 1972, and continually refurbished. Marine Corps officials said Friday they did not know the age or other details of the one that sank.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David Berger, suspended waterborne operations of more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined.

This is the third time in recent years that Camp Pendleton Marines have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises.

In 2017, 14 Marines and one Navy sailor were hospitalized after their vehicle hit a natural gas line, igniting a fire that engulfed the landing craft at Camp Pendleton.

In 2011, a Marine died when an amphibious assault vehicle in a training exercise sank offshore of the camp.

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Son of Federal Judge killed After Gunman Opened Fire at Her New Jersey Home

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The son of US District Court of New Jersey Judge Esther Salas has died after a gunman opened fire on her North Brunswick home Sunday.

Chief Judge Freda Wolfson said Sunday that Salas’ son Daniel Anderl, 20, was killed in the shooting and her husband, Mark Anderl, was injured. Salas was unharmed, Wolfson said.

Both the US Marshals and FBI are investigating the shooting. Initial reports from law enforcement said Daniel Anderl opened the door with his father right behind him. The door opened to a hail of gunfire and the gunman fled.

“We are looking for one subject,” the FBI said in a statement. “We are working closely with our state and local partners and will provide additional updates when available.”

Police respond to reports of a shooting at the home of federal Judge Esther Salas in North Brunswick, New Jersey, July 19, 2020.

A law enforcement official with direct knowledge said that the gunman appeared to be wearing a FedEx uniform.

It is not yet known whether the gunman was a FedEx employee or someone posing to be an employee.

“We are aware of the media reports and are fully cooperating with investigating authorities,” Jonathan Lyons, a spokesman for FedEx, said in an email statement.

Law enforcement has not been aware of any threats against the judge and right now investigators don’t know the motive.

Daniel Anderl, 20, was shot and killed at his New Brunswick home on Sunday evening.

“Judge Salas and her family are in our thoughts at this time as they cope with this senseless act,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “This tragedy is our latest reminder that gun violence remains a crisis in our country and that our work to make every community safer isn’t done.”

Democratic U.S Senator Bob Menendez, who said he was proud to have recommended Judge Salas to former President Barack Obama, also issued a statement sending his prayers to the family.

“My prayers are with Judge Salas and her family, and that those responsible for this horrendous act are swiftly apprehended and brought to justice,” Menendez said.

North Brunswick Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack spoke Sunday night that Judge Salas’ husband Mark Anderl is “one of the most straight-up honest attorneys” he has dealt with.

“He’s a very very exuberant, vibrant, one hundred percent pleasant person,” Womack said. “He loves to talk about his wife, and he loves to brag about his son, and how his son would excel in baseball, and how great he was doing in college in Washington … I’m just very sorry to see him going through this.”

The FBI urged anyone with relevant information to call FBI Newark at 973-792-3001.

This is a developing story: We’ll give updates on the situation as we learn more.

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John R. Lewis, front-line civil rights leader and eminence of Capitol Hill, dies at 80

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John R. Lewis, a civil rights leader who preached nonviolence while enduring beatings and jailings during seminal front-line confrontations of the 1960s and later spent more than three decades in Congress defending the crucial gains he had helped achieve for people of color, has died. He was 80.

His death was announced in statements from his family and from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Advisers to senior Democratic leaders confirmed that he died July 17, but other details were not immediately available.

Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 29 and said he planned to continue working amid treatment. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said in a statement. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”

His last public appearance came at Black Lives Matter Plaza with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on a Sunday morning in June, two days after taping a virtual town hall online with former president Barack Obama.

While Mr. Lewis was not a policy maven as a lawmaker, he served the role of conscience of the Democratic caucus on many matters. His reputation as keeper of the 1960s flame defined his career in Congress.

When President George H.W. Bush vetoed a bill easing requirements to bring employment discrimination suits in 1990, Mr. Lewis rallied support for its revival. It became law as the Civil Rights Act of 1991. It took a dozen years, but in 2003 he won authorization for construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall.

In 2012, when Rep. Paul C. Broun (R.-Ga.) proposed eliminating funding for one aspect of the Voting Rights Act, Mr. Lewis denounced the move as “shameful.” The amendment died.

Mr. Lewis’s final years in the House were marked by personal conflict with President Trump. Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Mr. Lewis said, rendered Trump’s victory “illegitimate.” He boycotted Trump’s inauguration. Later, during the House’s formal debate on whether to proceed with the impeachment process, Mr. Lewis had evinced no doubts: “For some, this vote might be hard,” he said on the House floor in December 2019. “But we have a mandate and a mission to be on the right side of history.”

Born to impoverished Alabama sharecroppers, Mr. Lewis was a high school student in 1955 when he heard broadcasts by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that drew him to activism.

“Every minister I’d ever heard talked about ‘over yonder,’ where we’d put on white robes and golden slippers and sit with the angels,” he recalled in his 1998 memoir, “Walking With the Wind.” “But this man was talking about dealing with the problems people were facing in their lives right now, specifically black lives in the South.”

Mr. Lewis vaulted from obscurity in 1963 to head the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he helped form three years earlier. SNCC, pronounced “snick,” had quickly become a kind of advance guard of the movement, helping organize sit-ins and demonstrations throughout the South.

Within weeks of taking over SNCC, Mr. Lewis was in the Oval Office with five nationally known black leaders, including King, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins.

Labeled the “Big Six” by the press, they rejected President John F. Kennedy’s request to cancel the March on Washington planned for that August that promised to lure hundreds of thousands of protesters to the doorstep of the White House to push for strong civil rights legislation. The president argued that the march would inflame tensions with powerful Southern politicians and set back the cause of civil rights.

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his aspirational “I Have a Dream” speech. Mr. Lewis, at 23 the youngest speaker, gave a prescient warning: “If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. . . . We must say, ‘Wake up, America, wake up!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.”

The toughest of the major addresses, Mr. Lewis’s text had in fact been toned down earlier that day at the behest of his seniors — including King, his mentor. They feared that explicit condemnation of the Kennedy administration’s timidity and the threat of a “scorched earth” approach would create a political backlash. (With the death of Mr. Lewis, all of the speakers from the March are now deceased.)

The contrast with his elders symbolized Mr. Lewis’s unusual role in those tumultuous years. At critical moments, he rebuffed their advice to give legislation or litigation more time. Handcuffs and truncheons never dulled his belief in confrontation. Yet he stoutly opposed the militant black nationalists such as Stokely Carmichael who would later take over SNCC.

As the last survivor of the “Big Six,” Mr. Lewis was the one who kept striving for black-white amity. Time magazine included him in a 1975 list of “living saints” headed by Mother Teresa. With only mild hyperbole, the New Republic in 1996 called him “the last integrationist.”

Taylor Branch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the civil rights movement who had known Mr. Lewis since the mid-60s, said in an interview, “His most distinguishing mark was steadfastness. He showed lifelong fidelity to the idea of one man, one vote — democracy as the defining purpose of the United States.

“John Lewis saw racism as a stubborn gate in freedom’s way, but if you take seriously the democratic purpose, whites as well as blacks benefit,” Branch added. “And he became a rather lonely guardian of nonviolence.”

On Inauguration Day 2009, Obama, the country’s first black president, gave Mr. Lewis a photo with the inscription: “Because of you, John.” It joined a memorabilia collection that included the pen President Lyndon B. Johnson handed him after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Ironically, Mr. Lewis had backed the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in the nominating contest’s early days because of a personal bond with both Clintons. But he switched allegiance once Obama gained some traction.

The bigger revolt

John Robert Lewis was born Feb. 21, 1940, near Troy, Ala., the third of 10 children of Eddie Lewis and the former Willie Mae Carter. Tenant farmers for generations, they saved enough money to buy their own 100 acres in 1944.

John — called Preacher because he sermonized chickens — was the odd child out. He loved books and hated guns. He never hunted small game with other kids. His petition for access to the Pike County library went unanswered.

“White kids went to high school, Negroes to training school,” Mr. Lewis told the New York Times in 1967. “You weren’t supposed to aspire. We couldn’t take books from the public library. And I remember when the county paved rural roads, they went 15 miles out of their way to avoid blacktopping our Negro farm roads.”

College seemed impossible until the family learned of the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. Aspiring black preachers willing to take campus jobs could attend free.

He arrived determined to perfect his “whooping” — preaching at a high emotional pitch — but he soon found the pull of social activism irresistible. With other Nashville students, he came under the influence of a Vanderbilt graduate student, James Lawson, who had been imprisoned for refusing military service during the Korean War.

Years later, Mr. Lewis successfully applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam conflict and broke with Johnson over the war issue earlier than the other “Big Six” leaders.

In ad hoc workshops, Lawson taught “New Testament pacifism” (how to love rather than strike the enemy tormenting you) and Gandhi-style civil disobedience (staying calm when punched in the head).

These lessons mattered in 1960 as the Nashville Student Movement conducted sit-ins aimed at forcing retailers to allow black customers to use the stores’ eateries. Mr. Lewis experienced his first arrest when police collared the quiet young demonstrators, not the roughnecks who had been knocking them off stools.

As the Nashville campaign broadened to include other targets, Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s legal lion, delivered a lecture at Fisk University in Nashville, advising restraint. Don’t go to jail, he suggested. Let the NAACP go to court.

Mr. Lewis was appalled. Marshall’s admonitions, he said, “convinced me more than ever that our revolt was as much against this nation’s traditional black leadership structure as it was against racial segregation and discrimination.” The students ultimately prevailed in Nashville.

King wanted to blend the Nashville activists and counterparts elsewhere into an SCLC youth auxiliary. But Lawson argued that SCLC was too cautious. Discussions on the issue led to SNCC’s creation in 1960. Mr. Lewis was an enthusiastic recruit.

Even before Mr. Lewis graduated in 1961 with his preacher’s certificate, he no longer aspired to the ministry. With other SNCC members from Nashville, he volunteered to join an older group, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), in riding inter-state buses throughout the South. The Supreme Court had already ruled that depots could not be segregated, but that decision was being ignored.

The “Freedom Rides” aroused fierce resistance. Arsonists torched buses in Anniston, Ala., and Birmingham. In several cities, police either looked the other way while crowds beat the riders or arrested the so-called “outside agitators.” Violence became so serious that CORE withdrew.

The SNCC contingent refused to quit. Mr. Lewis, who absorbed his share of bruises and arrests, wound up spending 22 days in Parchman Farm, a Mississippi penitentiary infamous for primitive conditions. But the Freedom Rides drew national attention to the desegregation campaign and attracted recruits. And the Kennedy administration began formal implementation of the Supreme Court decision.

SNCC gained prominence and confidence in its strategy. “We now meant to push,” Mr. Lewis recalled. “We meant to provoke.”

But the group suffered growing pains, including unstable leadership. In June 1963, SNCC’s third chairman resigned suddenly. Mr. Lewis came to Atlanta for an emergency meeting. It ended with his election as chairman.

Chronically broke, SNCC paid its chairman $10 a week plus rent for a dingy apartment. Mr. Lewis would hold the post for three years — longer than anyone else — but tensions scarred his experience. Continued attacks on blacks in the South, growing unrest in northern ghettos and the fact that mainstream leaders declined to break with Lyndon Johnson combined to strengthen SNCC’s separatist element.

Carmichael, that faction’s charismatic leader, preached black nationalism and criticized Mr. Lewis as too measured and accommodating, a “little Martin Luther King.” In 1966, Carmichael (who later renamed himself Kwame Ture) was chosen chairman. SNCC’s white members were shunted aside and urged to leave. Even 30 years later, Mr. Lewis would say of his ouster: “It hurt me more than anything I’ve ever been through.”

Mr. Lewis eventually returned to Atlanta to join the Southern Regional Council, which sponsored community development. In 1968, he joined Robert Kennedy’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, as a liaison to minorities. He was with the entourage in Los Angeles when Kennedy was assassinated.

Although the murder devastated him, campaigning had sharpened Mr. Lewis’s interest in seeking public office. So did his marriage, later that year, to Lillian Miles, a librarian by profession but a political junkie by avocation. She was one of his principal advisers until her death in 2012.

Survivors include a son, John-Miles Lewis.

On both social and economic issues, Mr. Lewis lived up to the label he put on himself: “off-the-charts liberal.” Like other members of the Black Caucus, he consistently opposed domestic spending cuts. But he was just as vehement in his opposition to the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, although many blacks — particularly Georgians — disagreed.

Unlike some other black notables, Mr. Lewis refused to participate in Louis Farrakhan’s 1995 Million Man March in Washington. He also denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic rants. When needled about racial loyalty, Mr. Lewis liked to say, “I follow my conscience, not my complexion.”

In 2010, Obama awarded Mr. Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. He continued to say that his conscience demanded that he teach young people the legacy of the civil rights movement. In 2013, he began a trilogy in comic book form called “March.” When a former supporter of the Ku Klux Klan named Elwin Wilson popped out of history in 2009, asking forgiveness for having severely beaten then-Freedom Rider Lewis in 1961 at a Greyhound bus station in Rock Hill, S.C., Mr. Lewis took him on three TV shows to show that “love is stronger than hate.”

He revisited the Edmund Pettus Bridge on anniversaries of Bloody Sunday, often accompanied by political leaders of both parties. “Barack Obama,” he mused, “is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.”

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