Law enforcement officers from dozens of agencies joined hundreds of mourners Saturday to pay respects to Sunset police Officer Henry Nelson, who police say was shot to death by a man accused of fatally stabbing one woman and injuring three others.
Representatives from at least 30 law enforcement agencies statewide and some from around the country attended the service at Sunset Middle School, just a half-mile from where, on Aug. 26, multiple agencies engaged in a more than two-hour standoff with the man accused of killing Nelson, 51, and Shameka Johnson, 40.
After Nelson’s service in Sunset, mourners came together 2 miles away at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Grand Coteau to memorialize Johnson, the sister of Grand Coteau Mayor Shaterral Johnson.
Vocalist Mercedes T. Major sang popular songs like Boyz II Men’s “Mama” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” during the solemn Mass, where the standing-room-only congregation gathered in honor of the woman known as “Mikki.”
The small towns of Sunset and Grand Coteau — neighboring communities in the southernmost part of St. Landry Parish — have a combined population of about 4,000. Mourners from the close-knit communities could be found leaving after Nelson’s funeral to cross beneath Interstate 49 to attend Johnson’s.
On their way to do just that, Joseph and Linda Guillory recalled their personal relationships with the two victims.
Joseph Guillory said he taught the Johnson sisters, while Linda Guillory recalled the time Nelson arrested her for trespassing on school property in some bout of miscommunication.
“I was nervous, but he always kept a smile,” Linda Guillory recalled. “He apologized and said, ‘I’m just doing my job.’ ”
Along with other officers who spoke of their fallen colleague as a warm, generous and God-fearing man, Sunset Police Chief Luis Padilla recounted a similar memory of Nelson’s arrest tactics, saying he would “arrest you with a smile — and when he let you go, he preached to you with a smile.”
Padilla said he hired Nelson 13 years ago and he had since proven a dedicated officer who “was a valuable, treasured friend to everyone he knew.”
Officers from both the Chicago and New York City police departments attended Nelson’s funeral on behalf of Brotherhood for the Fallen, a nonprofit organization that sends uniformed police officers to the funerals of officers killed in the line of duty.
The organization — created by Chicago police in 2010 before the NYPD created a second chapter this year — has had a busy few weeks. Delegates traveled on Friday to Harris Country, Texas, for Deputy Darren Goforth’s funeral, to Lake Charles last week for State Police Trooper Steven Vincent’s funeral and to Gonzales earlier this month for Shreveport police Officer Thomas LaValley’s services.
“We’re running low on officers to send out,” NYPD Officer Mike Rogers, a delegate for the organization, said.
Nelson was one of three law enforcement officers killed in Louisiana in August and the sixth in 2015, along with U.S. Marshal Josie Wells, Housing Authority of New Orleans police Officer James Bennett Jr. and New Orleans police Officer Daryle Holloway.
Nelson died on Aug. 26 while responding to the Anna Street home where Harrison Riley Jr., 35, is accused of fatally stabbing Johnson and injuring her 34-year-old sister, their 66-year-old mother and his 27-year-old wife. Riley, who police said appeared to be on some type of dissociative drug — possibly PCP — managed to somehow get hold of Nelson’s service weapon and shoot him with it.
Police say Riley then plowed a Nissan Altima into the Sunset Mini Mart a few blocks away, where he holed up in an office for two hours and ignored negotiators before police finally tear-gassed and arrested him. The store later caught on fire.
Riley faces counts of first-degree murder of a police officer; first-degree murder; five counts of attempted first-degree murder; two counts of aggravated criminal damage to property; one count of obstruction of justice; and a count of aggravated arson.
He’s being held at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, where he’s undergoing an assessment as to whether he should be held in the prison’s mental health care facility.
Although crime-scene tape remained wrapped around the Sunset Mini Mart’s perimeter on Saturday, a commercial-size trash bin had been placed in front of the boarded-up store and was filled with debris. The Anna Street home remained empty.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825