Candlelight glimmered beneath hundreds of solemn faces at Shorebird Stadium Monday night, where community members and law enforcement officers held a prayer vigil to honor the life and sacrifice of Deputy First Class Glenn Hilliard, who was shot to death in the line of duty Sunday.
“Glenn lived for this. Glenn’s life was his career. He loved what he did every day that he chose to go out and protect Wicomico County. He loved it no matter what I said about danger, someone had to do it, and that person was him,” Hilliard’s wife, Tashica, told hundreds of tearful attendees standing outside the stadium. “All day I’ve been telling people, the only way I’m able to function is because I know he died doing what he loved.”
Jeff Merritt, the president of Operation We Care, a nonprofit organization supporting military and first responders, said he and Doug Marshall went to work immediately to organize the vigil in Hilliard’s honor.
They were encouraged by the large turnout, which Merritt estimated to be about 1,000 attendees strong, all of whom mourned in the sweltering June heat for more than an hour.
“We talked about doing this, and we thought ‘Should we wait until the end of the week, or should we do it immediately?’ But we thought Cpl. Heacook’s candlelight vigil was done immediately, so we felt this was the right thing to do,” Merritt said, referring to Delmar police officer Cpl. Keith Heacook, who was also killed in the line of duty just last year.
'A very good man'
Dry eyes were few and far between as the community came together to mourn the loss of Hilliard, who was described by speakers as a loving father and husband, and a dedicated protector of his community.
“We lost a very good man, we lost a very brave man, but I will also say thank God he was a man who also left us with so many great memories,” said John Cannon, President of the Wicomico County Council. “He was a man who led a positive life, always looking to expand his horizons, a man who was always engaged with his family and faith, and a man who above all else, chose as his life’s ambition to protect and defend all of our lives at any cost.”
One of Hilliard’s three children, 16-year-old Jersi Hilliard, spoke tearfully to the crowd about the many nights she spent waiting for her father to come home from work.
“Sometimes I would stay up until like 1 a.m., and he would come home like, ‘What are you doing up?’ and I’d say, like, ‘Oh, just doing homework.’ But no, I was waiting for [him] to come home,” Jersi said, pausing as the crowd broke into supportive cheers. “Ever since I was old enough to understand how dangerous his job was, I was always sitting in class worrying about if I would get the phone call saying, like, ‘we need Jersi to come home, something’s happened to him.’”
Jersi passed the microphone back to her mother, who described how the last night her husband went to work, she had a sick feeling of “impending doom” weighing over her.
“Before he went to work, I didn’t feel well. I kept telling Glenn something wasn’t right, it was weird, I said it’s like I’m feeling an impending doom and I just want to be close to [him]. So when he texted me that night and said, ‘How are you feeling?’ I said, “Good, I have to tell you some news,’ and he said, ‘I’ll call you as soon as I clear this call,’” Mrs. Hilliard spoke over a chorus of sniffles and sobs pouring from the audience. “He never called me back, and I knew when I didn’t get that call back, that he had given the ultimate sacrifice.”
The emotions of those attending the vigil shifted frequently from sorrowful to frustrated, as the topic of accountability for repeat offenders was routinely brought up by speakers and attendees.
Hilliard was fatally shot Sunday night in Pittsville.
Police later arrested 20-year-old Austin Jacob Allen Davidson of Delmar, who was wanted on multiple felony warrants. After he was charged with the armed robbery of a McDonald’s in 2019, Davidson was given a three-year suspended sentence and was placed on probation.
Suspect's judicial history assailed
“[Hilliard] was out here on the front lines, getting ready to take a hardened criminal off the street, when he was murdered by the hands of a coward who should not have been walking in any community,” said Worcester County Sheriff Matthew Crisafulli. “As we stand before you tonight, there is blood dripping off the fingers of the criminal justice system.”
Wicomico State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes also emphasized the need for accountability to the vigil’s attendees.
“We need you to hold yourselves, your communities, and your families accountable. Without accountability we are not a civilized society,” she said, thanking law enforcement officers in attendance and asking them to ‘stay the course.’ “We are going to make progress one case at a time, because this community deserves it.”
Wicomico Sheriff Mike Lewis vowed that the perpetrator will be held accountable for the death of Hilliard, and called for a return to the death penalty to address “societal deterioration.”
“I promise you, the man who brought tragedy into our community last night will pay the price for what he did,” Lewis said.
“Evil, we do have evil in our communities,” Lewis said. “We have people who have vowed that if they ever get out of jail, they will kill again. They’ve made it very clear. I honestly believe our society today has deteriorated because our society lacks accountability.”
Attendees were largely in agreement that Davidson should have faced jail time for his previous charges, rather than being granted probation before judgment.
“He shouldn’t have got PBJ [probation before judgment] for an armed robbery, he should’ve got some jail time for his initial crimes, not just a slap on the wrist” said Kari Figgs, 44, of Salisbury, who came to the vigil with her fellow members of JeepHERS of MD Eastern Shore.
“They need to enforce the current laws that are in place, not worrying about getting new gun laws,” added Gwen Niblett, 56, also in attendance with the women-led Jeep enthusiast group.
Support for family
Attendees also expressed their love and support for Mrs. Hilliard and her children.
“We support the family, Wicomico Strong, and we’re always going to be here for them, even after this timeframe, not just during this tragedy, because that’s when they’ll need it the most,” said Ashlie Morris, 37, of Salisbury.
Wicomico Sheriff’s Cpl. Craig Ashley said he attended the vigil in memory of his fellow officer, who he described as an esteemed member of the force.
“He was humble, well-liked, easy going, and very approachable but serious about the job. Just an easy going, regular guy who did his job well, and unfortunately sometimes the bad guys win,” Cpl. Ashley said.
As the vigil closed out, candle sticks were passed among attendees and cell phone lights were raised skyward. The blistering sun fell beneath the horizon just in time for a moment of worship, painting the sky with bright red streaks as Pastor Mike Rittenhouse of Delmar’s 3C USA Church led the audience in singing “Amazing Grace.”
“We stand here Lord and we are ripped to the core with this loss. Holy Spirit, come to this place now, put a hush over this place, rest on your people, and give them the peace we’ve already seen demonstrated tonight through this lovely wife,” Rittenhouse prayed. “Lord, I speak healing over these daughters, these children, and this family.”
Merrit said anyone who wishes to donate money toward supporting Hilliard’s family should visit the donation page of Operation We Care’s website, operationwecare.org, and select “DFC. Glenn Hilliard Family” at checkout.