When Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Lawrenceville held its first-ever First Responders Appreciation event two years ago, Gwinnett Police Officer Antwan Toney was one of the public safety officials who attended and greeted residents.
On Saturday, Toney — who was killed in the line of duty in October — was named by Mt. Sinai pastor the Rev. Jonathan Flanigan during the third annual appreciation event as an example of the sacrifices and risks public safety officials accept when they agree to become police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, school resource officers or fire fighters.
“I can’t help but be a little emotional just to know there were officers that were right here in this place not even two years ago that were met with situations beyond their control and met eternity,” Flanigan told attendees at an appreciation ceremony near the end of the event.
The church holds its First Responders Appreciation event each year to thank law enforcement and firefighters for the work they do on a daily basis and to show them that there is support in the community for them.
During the appreciation ceremony near the end of the event, plaques were handed out to representatives of attending public safety agencies, but as Flanigan attendees at the ceremony, he focused a lot on the perils officers face on a daily basis.
The story of what happened to Toney, who was fatally shot while approaching a vehicle in Snellville, was an example of the risk and the sacrifice, Flanigan said.
“There’s going to be times when you get into situations, just as Officer Toney did, where it happens so quick,” the pastor said. “There’ll be situations where you may not even have time to make an emergency call, or you may not have time to get on the radio and call for backup.
“But, if you think about it, the Lord is always there.”
In addition to the appreciation ceremony, the event also included meet and greets with public safety officers and firefighters as well as a luncheon for first responders. Heavy afternoon rains hampered much of the meet and greet portion, which was held outside. Flanigan said, despite the weather, the event’s attendance peaked at about 50 people, half of which were police and firefighters.
However, many of the public safety officials were called away to respond to weather-related events or other service calls before the appreciation ceremony began.
Those officers who were able to stay for the ceremony said they appreciated what the church does to show its gratitude to first responders.
Gwinnett County Master Police Officer Ashley Wilson said the fact that Toney was remembered, not only for his death, but for being at the church for the inaugural First Responders Appreciation event, is a testament to the impact he made in the community.
Wilson and Toney were on the same squad and worked together.
“There wasn’t a kid he could walk by without giving a sticker, there wasn’t a basketball hoop he could walk by without shooting a hoop, and I think that image that he gives our community reflects on all of us,” Wilson. “For our citizens to remember him and value the work that he did make my heart hurt a little less.”
Wilson and Lawrenceville Police Sgt. Dennis Inlow said it means a lot to public safety officials to see members of the community come together to say “Thank you” to first responders.
“It lifts morale, especially on a soggy day like today,” Wilson said.
Inlow said, “It means with all of the bad that we deal with there’s (still) all of this good out here. There’s more of the good than the bad.”