Leon County deputy slain five years ago Friday

Published: Nov. 22, 2019 at 5:53 PM EST
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By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

November 22, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- A Leon County deputy rushing to the scene of a house fire was ambushed and killed on this day back in 2014. Another deputy was saved by his bullet proof vest.

Deputy Chris Smith - a husband, father and veteran law enforcement officer - was shot and killed in the front yard.

The shocking shooting and subsequent shootout stunned our community five years ago on November 22, 2014.

"It was very shocking and unbelievable."

"You just never think it would happen in Leon County, but it did."

A man setting his home on fire just to lure first responders to the scene and then taking aim. Leon County Deputy Chris Smith was the first one there.

"We have an active shooting in progress. We have an officer down," the dispatcher said over the radio that day.

Erika Smith Hall remembers vividly the knock on the door and the blur of the painful days that followed.

"You never think you're going to be a widow," Hall said, "there I was, 34, and I had no idea how to navigate life without him."

November 22nd and Thanksgiving will never be the same.

The first anniversary, she marked by inviting close family and friends for a balloon release at her husband's grave, but since then, Erika prefers to celebrate his life.

"I try to choose to do something that brings me joy," she said.

She continues to find comfort in knowing her husband died doing what he loved.

"He was a law enforcement officer through and through. He loved what he did," she said.

Helping her move forward? Other widows in a club no one wants to join.

The C.O.P.S program - which stands for Concerns of Police Survivors - offers camps and counseling as well as the listening ears and knowing nods of those who've suffered a similar loss.

"You kinda see you're not alone," Hall said. "They stand by your side and you meet a network of people that help you go through this."

LCSO's Dave Teems is now a national liason for the C.O.P.S program and tries to help families of fallen officers.

"It's become a passion for me after everything that happened to sit down and really help someone move forward," Teems said, "to help them understand that no matter where you are dealing with this situation, there's going to be somebody there to talk to you."

It's a decision he made after spending 16 hours at the scene the day Deputy Smith lost his life.

"You know it was pretty surreal. To see someone in your own uniform there really makes a personal impact," Teems said.

Hall says thanks to C.O.P.S and the support of so many in our community, she now helps other families faced with losing loved ones in the line of duty, but just the thought of it happening to anyone else brings her to tears.

"You know it's hard to think that there's another kid out there that's going to be like my two, there's another young widow," she said wiping away tears, "I think of the families."

Erika has since remarried and the children who were so young when Deputy Smith was murdered are now doing so well.

"Gabby just graduated from high school and will be starting college in the spring and Hunter is a freshman in high school," Hall said.

Erika says on this anniversary, she hopes those who knew Chris remember him with a smile.

"Remember the good stuff," Hall said. "He was a great guy. He was larger than life."