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AMERICUS, Ga. (January 20, 2017) – December 7, 2016 was a day that forever changed Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) and the Americus/Sumter County community. Americus Police Officer Nicholas Smarr and GSW Public Safety Officer Jody Smith were killed in the line of duty.

Amidst the chaos of a GSW lockdown, Jessica Knights, a junior nursing major of Leesburg, began texting her friends to make sure they were all safe. It was then that she learned that her fellow classmate Rachel Harrod had lost her boyfriend, Officer Smarr, in the tragedy.

Together, with Kennedy Cann of Fayetteville, and Peggy-Claire Israel, of Americus, Knights and her classmates began thinking of something they could do to honor the fallen officers and their classmate. The idea of T-shirts came up in a group message, and everyone was on board.

"Rachel has just been so supportive of all of us, even after everything she has been through (losing her brother in a car accident earlier this year)," Knights said. "I just felt like everyone would want to do something for her."

Their idea that started as something just for their fellow classmates quickly went viral with a Facebook post by Israel. Within a few hours, the students had 300 T-shirt orders without even having a design in place.

"We never imagined that it would take off like it did. We thought we would raise maybe $1,000," Knights said.

From there, they met with local printer Global Graphics, who generously donated the shirts and design services, only charging production and shipping costs.

"This was something we just had to do. It's not always about the profit," said Global Graphics owner Jerry Hillhouse.

The T-shirts, which displayed a "Back the Blue" badge and the quote, "A hero is an ordinary person who faces extraordinary circumstances and acts with courage, honor and self-sacrifice," started a movement. The students would sell the shirts, and donate the money to the Smith and Smarr families.

Knights, Cann and Israel set up a table in front of local shop, The Maze on Dec. 9 and sold nearly $10,000 worth of T-shirts on the first day. They also sold them online. The shirts were $15 for short sleeve and $20 for long sleeve.

With the help of community members, Knights, Cann and Israel planned a "Celebration of Life for Nick and Jody" on January 7, 2017. It was there, one month following the tragedy, that family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers gathered to honor the lives of these heroes.

"This was an opportunity to focus on the important things in life," Israel said. "We should spend less time worrying about ourselves, and instead do something for someone else."

The celebration is also where the nursing students presented the Smarr and Smith families with $10,000 each. They plan to give Rachel Harrod and Jody Smith's fiancé, Sarah Smarr, $1,000 each. As of the celebration, the students raised approximately $38,000 through shirt sales and donations. After the associated costs (i.e. shipping, production, online fees, etc.), they raised nearly $22,000 for the families.

On the first day of classes in the GSW School of Nursing, the students proudly donned their T-shirts and surprised Harrod with lunch with her classmates.

"This should be a reminder to our students that we should appreciate our campus safety officers and local law enforcement officers more for all that they do for us," Cann said.

Nursing students who raised money for officer families

Caption: (l to r) GSW nursing students Peggy-Claire Israel, Kennedy Cann and Jessica Knights raised nearly $40,000 for the families of Nicholas Smarr and Jody Smith through T-shirt sales and donations. 

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