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Mooresville residents pay tribute to slain Officer Jordan Sheldon as his procession passes through downtown.

The blue ribbons will fade in the relentless Southern sun.

The haunting nighttime hues will gradually disappear as blue bulbs are replaced with the traditional variety in front-porch light fixtures.

The cookies, cakes and other homemade food that filled the Mooresville Police Department lobby will be eaten or given to others; and the handcrafted, heartfelt tributes will be cleared away.

But a community’s collective pain will not be shed so easily.

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Mooresville Police Officer Jordan Sheldon.

That’s because in the early hours of May 5, while most of Mooresville slept peacefully, a somber radio dispatch signaled the town’s entry into a fraternity of communities whose membership none of them ever sought.

“K9 Officer Jordan Sheldon’s watch has ended, and he has answered his highest call,” the dispatcher said. “Godspeed, Officer Sheldon. Your K9 partner Ramone and your brothers and sisters of the thin blue line will take it from here.”

Mooresville, through no fault of its own, had officially become “one of those places.”

The senseless violence that seemed so foreign when it struck elsewhere suddenly hit home with a sickening thud.

What started as a “routine” traffic stop ended in tragedy when the driver pulled a gun and fatally shot Sheldon, before apparently killing himself a short time later in a nearby apartment.

A palpable sense of helplessness gripped the community, which seemed to collectively ask: “How do I respond to this? What can I do?”

What they did was create an impromptu memorial in front of the police station, where the collection of flowers, signs, stuffed animals – even dog treats – and other expressions of appreciation grief grew daily.

They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, leaning on each other in the soft light of candles during an evening vigil.

They gathered outside town hall to share in a celebration of Officer Sheldon’s life.

They cooked. They dutifully hung those ribbons and signs. And they installed those blue lights.

It was the least they could do. And they did it.

Finally, on a gloomy Friday afternoon, they packed downtown Mooresville May 10 to bid one last farewell.

Seemingly on cue, light rain began to fall just as the procession came into view for the suddenly hushed crowd lining Main Street.

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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.

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