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End of watch: Community mourns as slain State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith laid to rest

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INDEPENDENCE — At first, the large gymnasium with hundreds of chairs appeared mostly empty as Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith’s flag-draped casket was marched in by the patrol’s honor guard.

Then, thousands of law enforcement personnel from across Iowa walked in, two by two, for more than half an hour. They saluted Smith’s casket and filled every chair and nearly all of the Independence High School gym’s bleachers Friday morning for Smith’s funeral.

Smith, 51, died of a single gunshot wound April 9 as he and other law enforcement attempted to make an arrest in Grundy Center. He was laid to rest Friday in Independence in front of many officers who knew him, as well as many who didn’t.

“For those of you who don’t know Jim, I can still remember the first time I met Jim. After meeting him, I remember being a bit confused: He was 51, but he looked 35 and he acted like 5,” said Paul Heppner, interim pastor for Jesup Bible Fellowship, where Smith and his family attended church. “I was also confused because he was this mixture of stern law officer and comedian.”

Smith’s great love was his family, including wife Kathy, son Zander and daughter Jazlyn, speakers at his funeral said. He also loved his job as a state trooper, serving on the patrol’s tactical team since 1994. And he loved music, playing drums — by his own admission not very well, joked former pastor Zane Hall — at Sunday services.

“He thought his drumming ability was not that great, but it was good enough for Jesus, and that’s all that mattered,” Hall said.

Speaker after speaker noted Smith was dedicated to his Christian faith above all.

“Jim prayed before every meal when we stopped for breaks. Every moment of him was centered on Christ,” said trooper Jon Stickney. “Jim’s legacy will leave a mark on all of us by the way he believed in humanity.”

Vehicles from law enforcement agencies from across the state follow the hearse carrying Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith through Independence, Iowa on Friday, April 16, 2021.

He was humble, patrol Col. Nathan Fulk said, and had to be talked into accepting a supervisory role on the tactical team — a role he held for five years.

“He always wanted to be the No. 1 man in the door,” said Fulk. “His struggle becoming a leader on the tactical team was that he would have to give up his No. 1 position. His priority was protecting his people.”

In a statement Friday afternoon, Fulk — speaking for the patrol — said the agency was “honored and blessed” to have served with Smith, noting his “passion and compassion that touched countless lives.”

“All of us in Post 10 are grieving today,” Stickney added. “Jim was our friend, our supervisor and he was a mentor to many.”

Matthew Perez, Smith’s former pastor, remembered how he and Smith would joke about their wives’ shopping trips to Kohl’s, laughing about how the receipt showed how much money their wives had “saved” them.

But he also said Smith was “the real deal,” noting he was the type of person whose public-facing persona matched his private one. His one vice, said Fulk, was chocolate milk, which was a treat after a big accomplishment.

“There was so much that seems senseless,” Perez said. “I know that one day God will wipe away every tear. But it does not, in this moment, make this event less tragic or less horrific.”

Perez noted he found a parallel in the untimely death of Jesus Christ, in that both lived in the service of others.

“We thank God for the time we had with Jim — the laughs, the smiles, the memories and the love,” Perez said.

A final 10-42 — police code for “end of watch” — was played before Smith’s casket was taken out, with a dispatcher repeatedly calling Smith’s call number, 462.

“There is no answer from 462,” the dispatcher said, his voice breaking. “Your brothers and sisters in law enforcement will forever watch over your family. May you rest in eternal peace.”

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Reporter covering Waterloo, Black Hawk Co. and politics

UNI political communications/journalism grad. Alum of The Calumet (MCC), The Northern Iowan (UNI), Fergus Falls (Minn.) Daily Journal and KWWL. 4-time award-winner while at The Courier. Interested in exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account.

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