Hundreds pay tribute to officers killed in shooting

LITHONIA - Eric Barker and Ricky Bryant Jr. had similar stories.

Both men joined the military - Barker was part of the U.S. Army Reserve and Bryant was a Marine - and both found their callings as police officers from those experiences. They joined the DeKalb County Police Department out of an intrinsic drive to be public servants, family members said.

The two men had four children each, so they moonlighted as off-duty security guards together to make extra money for their families. And it was while they were working that part-time job at an apartment complex that Barker, 33, and Bryant, 26, were shot to death a week ago in an apparent ambush, police said.

Hundreds gathered Wednesday to mourn the two men as their American flag-draped caskets sat at the front of the packed sanctuary at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, where Bryant and his wife are members.

The congregation was filled with uniformed and plain-clothed officers from across the state and region. Many of the attendees had placed black bands across their badges, a long-standing tradition to honor fallen officers.

Family and friends remembered both men as dependable, dedicated officers and loving fathers and husbands.

'I believe he's in heaven, and that is what is getting me through this right now,' said Colin Barker, Eric Barker's brother. 'He believed in the system. He believed in the law. He believed in doing the right thing.'

Outside the church, dozens of police officers on motorcycles and in squad cars waited to escort the hearse carrying Barker's body to Forest Lawn Cemetery in College Park. Bryant's body will be flown back to Rochester, N.Y., his hometown, for a burial later, DeKalb County authorities said.

'When I saw my husband laying in that casket, he had the biggest smile on his face,' Bryant's wife, LaToya, said tearfully of her childhood sweetheart. 'His soul was at peace.'

After the nearly three-hour service, officers from across the state lined up outside the church to give the caskets one final salute. Police helicopters flew in formation overhead as the miles-long procession of flashing blue lights drove down the street following the hearses.