A community is stunned and a small police department heartbroken after the shooting death of a young officer in a suburban mall on Wednesday (September 30).
The officer killed is Gregory Alia, 32. He was shot during an altercation with a suspect in the Richland Mall in Forest Acres, a suburb of Columbia, South Carolina, NBC News reported. That man, 34-year-old Jarvis Hall, has been arrested and charged with murder since the shooting.
Now Alia, who leaves behind his parents, wife, and a new baby son, is being mourned by this tight-knit community and remembered as a good man. His friend and frat brother, Patrick Walsh, told WSOC that Gregory possessed the perfect combination of qualities to make him an excellent officer.
“He was never confrontational, and I thought serving in the police, that’s an incredible quality to have.”
Alia was training a new officer when he was called to the mall with two other officers at about 8 a.m. Someone at a nearby bank had reported a suspicious person inside a van in the mall’s parking lot. When officers arrived, Hall bolted into the mall near a Barnes and Noble; officers gave chase.
The police chief said Alia confronted Hall, there was a struggle, followed by the shooting. The young officer was hit. His comrades were able to subdue the suspect, who was found with a stolen handgun and a knife, and place him under arrest.
Hall had been arrested before for fleeing from police, that time in Columbia. He was due to spend 30 days in jail, a sentence that ran out on October 16. So far, it’s not clear why the suspect wasn’t still incarcerated at the time of the mall shooting.
Alia was a seven-year veteran of the Forest Acres Police Department, which has only 25 officers. That makes the loss even more acute, said Chief Gene Sealy, who was the only person emotionally capable of speaking to reporters after the mall shooting.
“Our hearts are broken. Forest Acres is a small community, a small police department, we’re one big family… He was an outstanding police officer.”
According to WOLO, Gregory’s patrol car was returned to the department after the mall shooting, and county sheriff’s deputies and local firefighters spent a moment praying over his cruiser. Afterward, Mayor Frank Brunson expressed his grief on behalf of the community.
“Our Forest Acres Police Department puts themselves out on the line for us every day; with no expectations of thanks, reward, or thoughts for their own safety,” he said. “Today that risk was revealed as we mourn the tragic murder Officer Gregory Alia… [T]he entire community is heartbroken.”
He grew up in the area; one neighbor, Joan Woodward, remembered sneaking him candy when he was a child, and visiting with him, his wife, and newborn son not long ago. She called him a “special human being.”
“When my husband died eight years ago, he was so sweet. He came and sat with me. God always takes the angels.”
Adding a further note of tragedy to his shooting death is the fact that Alia’s wife, Kassy, just gave birth to a baby boy earlier this year. A GoFundMe page has been set up by his friend Walsh and by Thursday morning was heading towards $120,000 raised. The page features a picture of the young man, his wife, and a son.
“Greg will always be remembered as a kind-hearted soul who was always warm and welcoming with a big smile on his face and a great sense of humor,” the page reads.
In the day since the shooting, a memorial to Alia outside the department is growing, WACH added, as the man being held responsible for his shooting death in the mall is set to appear in court Thursday.
[Photo Anton Prado / Shutterstock]