The night of January 8, 2002 changed a community and two families forever.
"This is a tragic night in Beaufort County," police spokesperson Debbie Spzanka said. "We've lost two of our heroes."
Helicopters flew overhead and hundreds of law-enforcement agents beat the pavement, searching for the person responsible for killing two Beaufort County sheriff's deputies, Lance Corporal Dana Tate and Corporal AJ Coursen. That afternoon, the two men were sent out on a domestic violence call to a Burton home. When they arrived, things went tragically wrong.
"Gunfire erupted from the residence and as a result we lost two deputies," Sheriff PJ Tanner said.
After just a few hours, officers found their man, 39-year-old Tyree Roberts, who was injured in the deadly exchange of gunfire with deputies.
"We feel the suspect we have in custody nowm the shooter involved in this case, is responsible for killing both of our officers," Sheriff Tanner said.
Guards wheeled the suspected killer into court for his first appearance, but by his arraignment, Roberts lost the wheelchair and walked in with a smile and shouted out, "Hallelujiah." That same day, his pregnant wife, Monica DeJesus, made her way before the judge for accessory to murder charges. She was later released on bond until her court date.
While Roberts remains behind bars, family, friends and fellow deputies mourned the deaths of their fallen deputies.
"These officers meant everything to this office and to the citizens of our county," Sheriff Tanner said. "They paid the ultimate price."
Loved ones and fellow officers throughout the country packed the Baptist Church of Beaufort to say their last farewells to the first of the deputies, 35-year-old AJ Coursen, who left behind a wife and a small child. That same day, 43-year-old Dana Tate was laid to rest at the Beaufort National Cemetery with a traditional military funeral. This Navy veteran left behind his wife and four children.
The community has continued to rally around the deputies' families during this difficult year, offering donations and their support. Just months after their deaths, representatives from the J. Edgar Foundation awarded the fallen deputies with the prestigious Law Enforcement Award, an award given to officers who have done a heroic deed. And indeed these deputies qualify.
DJ Coursen, AJ's wife, said, " I know my husband is very proud. I'm very proud of my husband. Even though he lost his life in the line of duty, all his accomplishments have lead up to this."
In November, Roberts caused another scene in court after the solicitor's office requested a mental evaluation. It's been almost a year since Lance Corporal Dana Tate and Corporal AJ Coursen were killed in the line of duty. Their murder case is slowly moving through the court system, but it's a chapter in their families' lives that can't be erased.
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Reported by: Jaime Dailey, firstname.lastname@example.org