For one gloomy afternoon May 10, the loose, multi-county confederation of suburbs collectively known as Lake Norman truly became one.
They united in honoring slain Officer Jordan Sheldon as a miles-long line of emergency vehicles from dozens of agencies accompanied him from Charlotte to Mooresville after his funeral.
In Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson, the towns’ police and fire departments blocked off lanes on overpasses as the caravan approached on Interstate 77, allowing crowds to gather. Employees and customers of businesses along the highway spilled out and clustered along the fences on both sides of the highway.
It was as if commerce – and the triviality of everyday lives – was put on hold, if just for a short while.
Homemade signs with heartfelt expressions of gratitude hung on fences and from the overpasses, and American flags flapped against the gray sky.
A Davidson firefighter deftly attached an oversized version of old glory to a ladder extended high above the interstate at Exit 30.
Jurisdictions were of little consequence on this day because grief knows no boundaries and reverence requires no proof of residency.
Neighbors can be next door, or, in this case, miles apart.
In fact, the Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson police departments joined others in sending officers daily to cover shifts in Mooresville in the week following the fatal shooting of the K9 officer during a traffic stop May 4.
As the crowds continued to grow in anticipation of Sheldon’s procession, northbound traffic on I-77 disappeared, a surreal sight on a Friday afternoon when the lanes are typically choked.
A single law enforcement vehicle sped north, presumably to make sure all was clear ahead. The procession followed soon after. From overhead, the string of vehicles extended as far as the eye could see. It stayed that way for 20 minutes, until the final vehicle had passed.
Later, seemingly on cue, light rain began to fall just as the procession came into view for a suddenly hushed crowd lining Main Street in downtown Mooresville.
What had been a cacophony of conversations was instantly muted, leaving a somber silence interrupted only by the drone of a helicopter overhead and the siren of the procession’s lead vehicle.
Those who had been sitting in folding chairs or on curbs rose at the sight of the hearse carrying Sheldon. Some waved American flags of varying sizes, some held their hands over their hearts, some saluted, and others captured video with their phones.
Just behind the hearse, Sheldon’s father leaned his head out the window of an SUV and waved as it passed.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he repeated over and over.
The procession had traveled for miles on Interstates 485 and 77 past crowds separated by distance, as it did on U.S. 21 and Waterlynn Road after the vehicles exited the highway in Mooresville.
But in downtown, where crowds typically gather for holiday parades and festivals, those lining the streets were little more than an arm’s length from the vehicles as they passed. The compact corridor of grief guided Sheldon and his caravan under a massive American flag suspended by two towering fire truck ladders.
The intimacy of the downtown leg of the journey was evident as a string of Mooresville Police Department vehicles passed. Many of the officers’ wives and partners riding in the passenger seats were visibly overcome with emotion at the sight of the crowd packed into the heart of the town that the 32-year-old Sheldon served and protected for six years.
Dozens of K9 units were part of the procession in a signal of solidarity for their fallen comrade. As a Winston-Salem Police Department K9 vehicle passed, a dog hidden behind a protective screen in the back seat barked non-stop through the open window.
The officer who was driving did nothing to quiet the K9.
On this day, that was as it should be.