LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Auburn community said its farewells to a fallen police officer Friday afternoon. Veteran Officer William “Will" Ray Buechner Jr., pronounced Beek-ner, died in the line of duty Sunday.
Following a visitation period Friday morning at the Auburn University Arena, a 2 p.m. funeral service was held for the 37-year-old father of two. Fellow officers walked in holding flags, two bells chimed, and the crowd rose to its feet.
Auburn police officers filed into their seats on the right side of the arena floor, the Buechner family and their friends filled in seats to the left side. For the next hour, they listened as their loved one was praised for a life well lived.
The Reverend George Matheson spoke, first talking of 9/11 first responders and about how he’d decided to become a chaplain and how it was first responders who ministered to him.
“You are my heroes..." Matheson said. "My heroes are not athletes, ministers, bishops. My heroes are our police officers and our firefighters.”
And he spoke of Officer Buechner, specifically.
“Will was a blessing to all who knew him, every time I saw him, he had a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. His smile would cheer you and everyone else in the room. He did not have a mean bone in his body," Matheson explained. "He simply loved and cared about other people. Yes, he was brave. More than being brave, his life was characterized by sincere care and genuine love. He loved his Lord, his family, his brothers and sisters in arms and the citizens in this community. Brother Will laid down his life for us.”
As Matheson stepped from the microphone, “Amazing Grace” called out from bagpipes.
Auburn Mayor Ron Anders was next to speak, saying this was a first in city history.
“Sunday, May 19, Auburn faced a circumstance that we’ve never experienced, faced sadness that was unprecedented. Auburn will never be the same because of William Buechner,” the mayor said.
“I don’t know if Will experienced fear Sunday evening, but I do know he showed bravery,” the mayor stated, speaking to his family, thanking them for the officer’s service and bravery.
Addressing the community, the mayor stated “may the courage of this young man forever motivate us to love and care for our neighbors. Auburn will never be the same, but we will be better because Will Buechner blessed us with his life.”
Auburn Police Chief Paul Register then spoke. “William did the job you should be proud of. Honor, dedication. He did the job right.”
Looking out on the crowd of officers who came from far and wide, even though they didn’t personally know Buechner, Register explained, “I can assure you that the man you traveled so far to honor, is worth every mile you traveled.”
And Register admitted that Auburn wasn’t the only department Buechner could have taken a job with, though he stayed 13 years.
“He chose this community and I believe that this community chose him," the chief said. "He gave more to this community than anyone here has. Responded to over 34,000 calls. Always wanted to help people in need.”
Following the police chief’s words, it was Auburn Officer Bradley Henderson who spoke. He’d worked Buechner’s shift since early 2015.
“His attention to detail, passion for this job is without question the best I’ve ever seen," Henderson recalled. "He would write two pages per report, for every report. That was Will.” Then then recalled a recent search for a suspect other officers eventually gave up on. Buechner would take the suspect into custody because he wouldn’t stop when others did.
And Henderson pointed to the crowd as he told the audience what Buechner’s favorite thing in the world was: Ride motorcycles.
One of those motorcycle riders, Danny Garner, was next to speak. He and Buechner were among the members of the Gunners Motorcycle Club. He revealed the fallen officer’s road name was AFT, because his favorite things were alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.
“I take some pride in knowing he lived an impactful life,” an emotional Garner said, finishing his comments with lyrics from the Wiz Khalifa song “See You Again.”
The next to speak was a woman whose prerecorded message came from the arena’s sound system. She addressed Officer Buechner’s wife, Sara, and spoke of her own daughter’s interactions with Buechner during a call. She spoke of the officer’s compassion and how he taught her 16-year-old a life lesson and how she was devastated to learn he’d been killed.
And the final speaker was Paster Brandon Isbell of Church of the Highlands. He said Buechner used to tell him “everything’s under control,” and even if he didn’t believe him, he felt better because he’d said it.
Isbell spoke of joy, saying it was "what set Will apart. Many of you were close to Will because of his joy.”
The pastor led the crowd in prayer before Officer Buechner’s coffin was taken from the arena to an awaiting hearse.
Following the funeral, the Auburn Police Dispatch made a final call for badge No. 6885, but Officer Buechner would not respond.
William “Will” Ray Buechner, Jr., of Opelika, Alabama was born on August 27, 1981 in Montgomery, Alabama to William Ray Buechner, Sr. and Suzanne Plyler Buechner. He passed away on May 19, 2019.
Will graduated from Auburn University in 2005 and received a Bachelor of Criminology Degree. Will served the City of Auburn Police Department for 13 years. He was a full patch member of the Gunners Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club for five and one-half years.
Along with his parents, Will is survived by his wife of three years, Sara Buechner; son, Henry, step-daughter, Mckenna, whom he loved as his very own; sister, Brigitte (John) Huling; mother-in-law, Mildred Hardison; father-in-law, Murray Hardison; sister-in-law, Bethany (Teddy) Lopez; uncle, Irving (Jane) Buechner; aunt, Amy (Bill) Johnson; nieces, Hannah Huling, Sadie Anne Huling, Rachel Huling and Hensley Lopez; and nephew, Seth Huling.
Frederick-Dean Funeral Home directed Officer Buechner’s funeral service.
Those wishing to give flowers please consider making a donation, instead. Donations can be made through the Auburn University Credit Union or through the official GoFundMe memorial account set up in Officer Buechner’s name.
Officer Buechner’s fellow law enforcement officers survived Sunday’s incident and continue to recover from their injuries. Please consider giving to their official GoFundMe accounts.