Scholarship fund honors officer killed while searching for child - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Scholarship fund honors officer killed while searching for missing child

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ATLANTA, GA (WTVM) -

The memory of a police officer who died while searching for a lost child was kept alive Friday at a golf tournament held in his honor.  

Officer Richard J. Halford, a Hardaway High School graduate, was flying over the streets of Atlanta when his police helicopter collided with power lines. Both he and his co-pilot, Shawn Smiley, died in the crash.  

The pilots were out late at night navigating through an urban landscape to assist in a search for a missing boy. Family of the Columbus native says it's fitting that officer Halford's last actions involved putting his life on the line for the safety of others.

"And of course, that's how he lost his life- while in search of a child- but he lost his life doing what he enjoyed," said his mother Mattie Halford. 

That's how Mattie remembers her son's final mission with the Atlanta Police Department. His family and friends call him a dedicated officer, committed to serving the public and giving to  those less fortunate. And in memory of his passing, they're combining two things he liked to do: helping others, and playing golf.

Sgt. David Tolleson of the Atlanta Police Air Unit was in attendance with his flight crew,

"Actually, the last time I played golf was with Richard, and I think that is something that he would very much appreciate," said Sgt. Tolleson. "We miss him and think about him every day. I can't think of a better reason to play golf than in honor of Richard."

"We had a love and passion for golf and I felt the best way to honor Richard would be to have a golf tournament in honor of his legacy, for guys who want to learn how to fly helicopters at APD," said Tournament chair and childhood friend, Joe Saulsbury II.

The Atlanta chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen is a sponsor of the event and one of the original World War II pilots said he was immediately drawn to this tournament's cause:  to raise scholarship funds for Atlanta officers to receive aviation training and follow in the footsteps of Richard Halford.

"I'm sure it will be an inspiration for some young people and I'm sure a lot of the teachers will get it. And they will encourage young people to pay attention to these types of organizations and their contributions," said Val Archer, retired Tuskegee Airman.

Halford's sister said giving back to the community was part of Richard Halford's regular routine. She remembers a time when she and her brother were out to lunch and saw a man who couldn't afford to eat.

"What he did was- he didn't tell anyone- we were getting ready to leave and he went up to the counter and he paid for the food, he brought him to the table, he just surprised everyone.   But that's just how he was, that was standard," said his sister, Michele Halford Hall.

His cousin Charonda Huff helped to organize the tournament. She said Officer Halford would be humbled to see the large turnout at the event bearing his name.

"Richard was really quiet, so he would just be all smiles. He would be on location, but he would just be all smiles. He would be really happy about this," said Huff.

A fellow officer in the Atlanta department recounted his memory of joining the force with his longtime friend.

"I went to Kendrick High School and Richard went to Hardaway High School," said Archie Ezell. "We played ball against each other, we were very competitive. He amazed me with some of the things he could do on the football field. So when we both came up here to Atlanta, I actually didn't know he had joined the police department at the same time."

Ezell said he was both happy and disappointed to see Halford walk in the door of the police academy, because on the one hand- it was good to see a familiar face, but on the other- he knew he no longer had a shot at receiving the academy fitness award with Halford in the running.

Hall added that her brother was a person who never discriminated when it came to his generosity. Whether you were a close friend or a total stranger, Officer Halford would do whatever he could to help you if you were in need. 

He'll be missed by many in Atlanta and his hometown of Columbus.  

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