Athens, Ala. – On January 2nd, 2004, Sgt. Larry Russell and Officer Tony Mims, both responded separately to a 911 call where they were ambushed before exiting their patrol vehicles. Sgt. Larry Russell was a 42-year-old husband and father of four. He was a 19-year veteran of the police department. Tony Mims, 40, had been with the department for 15 years. He was survived by a wife and four children. Of that terrible day, Officer James Hand felt thankfulness and guilt. Officer Hand was originally given the call, but since he was about to go to lunch, Officer Mims took the call for him. Officer Hand responded after Sgt. Russell and Officer Mims didn’t respond to dispatch. At the scene, Officer Hand said that he had to tape the crime scene. After the tragic event, James said he was ready to go see his own family. Chief Wayne Harper, who was the police chief at the time, told both Officer Hand and his fellow officer that they could both take off the next day. Officer Hand said he and his co-worker looked at each other and told the chief, “We’ll come in.” The next day, James said it was dark as he began his shift. He said that there were a lot of things going on in his head wondering why things happened like they did, so he drove up to the old Athens Bible School ball field on Elkton Street and pulled out his Bible. James said that he prayed to God saying, “Lord, I know I won’t be able to hear you, but through your word, help me to understand.” He said that he opened his Bible up and read Hebrews 9:27 where it says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” He said at that moment, he understood it and it was hard, but it wasn’t his time to go.
Over the years, Officer James Hand continued to have health issues, but he continued to come to work at Athens State University as a security officer after his retirement at Athens Police Department. I can’t recall a time James and I worked together where he didn’t give God the glory for being alive. James would talk about his military service during Vietnam. He talked about struggling financially in the early years of his marriage to his wife, Paulette, who he loved dearly. I recall one evening when he came in to work and handed me a twenty dollar bill. He told me to take my wife out, saying that he was thankful that he was in a place where he could do that for someone else given the difficult financial times that he and his wife had faced in the early years.
On February 17th, I saw a message from James’s son-in-law and fellow ASU co-worker, Chris Helms, asking for prayers for James who was at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. By the morning of February 18th, I had a text from Jerry Crabtree saying that James had passed away. James will be missed by family and friends alike. Right now, I can hear James saying, “It was my time and God is good.”