IRWINTON – Hundreds of family, friends, colleagues and others from various law enforcement agencies across Georgia attended funeral services for slain Georgia Department of Corrections Sgt. Curtis Billue Saturday in the auditorium at Wilkinson County High School.
The 58-year-old Billue was a veteran officer with the Georgia Department of Corrections assigned to Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville. He was shot to death along with his partner, Sgt. Chris Monica, 42, of Milledgeville, after two inmates managed to overpower them last Tuesday aboard a state corrections transport bus between Sparta and Eatonton.
Funeral services for Sgt. Monica are set for 2 p.m. today at Milledgeville First United Methodist Church.
The two inmates accused of killing the corrections officers, Donnie Rowe, 43, and Ricky Dubose, 24, cellmates at Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville, were apprehended Thursday afternoon by authorities near Shelbyville, Tenn.
The capture of the escapees followed an intensified manhunt in Putnam and Morgan counties involving an estimated 150 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Billue was hailed a hero Saturday by many of those who knew him personally.
“As we prepare to greatly reflect on the goodness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we’re not going to be joined outside and not joined together on the inside, so join hands with your brothers and sisters, if you would please,” said Elder Frank Billue. “It may be a relative or a friend, whoever he or she might be, bless oh Lord my soul and all that is within me, and bless His holy name.”
He then prayed for the family.
“We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ for the Billue family, and all the friends and cousins and relatives, and in-laws and out-laws, we bless your great name today,” Elder Billue said. “We thank you for the spirit of praise; the spirit of love; the spirit of joy; the spirit of peace; the spirit of strength; the spirit of insight; the spirit of direction; and the spirit of guidance in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Elder Billue said even in times like these, it was his hope that everyone was leaning and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to see them through it all.
“We are trusting and believing in you with all of our hearts and we lean not to our own understanding, but we are acknowledging you in all of our ways and you said that you shall direct our path,” Elder Billue said. “We thank you that your word is a lamp to our feet and it is a light to our path. Show us your pathway today, Lord Jesus Christ. Oh God, lift up the bowed down heads; bring light in the midst of darkness and for some God, bring peace; and where there is no peace, bring joy, God; bring strength. Where there is weakness God, let the weak say, I am strong; and let the poor say that I rich, Lord.”
Elder Billue also prayed for those sworn to protect and serve. He asked that God give them strength and wisdom.
Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier, as well as many other local and state dignitaries, including state Rep. Rick Williams, Milledgeville Mayor Gary Thrower, Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills and many others, attended the funeral service at the same high school that Sgt. Billue attended while growing up in Wilkinson County.
During the reflection period, Dozier said he had pondered what to say at such a time, a time of celebration of Sgt. Curtis Billue’s life.
“I kept coming back to strength,” Dozier said. “When I met the Billue family on that tragic day, we got in the car, my chief of staff and myself, and as we were riding back and he asked me, he said what did you think. And it was a weird question. I didn’t know what to think. But I said that’s a strong family — a strong family. And I’ll tell you, your strength has carried us through and now my hope is that we can provide you strength to carry you through it.”
Reading from Psalms 22, Dozier said, “Lay your burden before the Lord and He will strengthen you.”
Dozier said he kept trying to think what words he could share from his perspective to convey who Curtis Billue actually was.
He was a father, a brother; he was a son, he was a provider, a friend and a protector, Dozier said.
The GDOC commissioner said because Billue had served in so many roles, including having risen to the rank of major while serving in the Army for 11 years, that the word hero came to his mind as one of the best possible descriptions.
“One of the things that was evident from the moment I walked into the door was how proud this family is that he has served not only the state of Georgia as a sergeant with the Department of Corrections for the past 10 years and protecting the people of this state, but he served as a major in the U.S. Army protecting this nation,” Dozier said. “Curtis Billue is a hero. Curtis Billue gave his whole life protecting others and serving. Curtis Billue makes me proud.”
Dozier added that one of the reasons so many GDOC officers had turned out for the funeral was love.
“We loved him,” Dozier said. “We loved Curtis. This group of men and women in this room love you. We’re here for you. We’re here for anything that we can do.”
Dozier pointed out that Billue served under three GDOC commissioners during his service as a state corrections officer.
“As we go through this process, it’s going to be a pain,” Dozier said. “We’re all grieving. And we’re all here to support each other.”
Baldwin State Prison Warden Cedric Taylor recalled the first time he and Sgt. Billue had what Taylor described as a real conversation.
“He had an issue, he had a concern about something, so he said, ‘Warden, I want to see if I can talk to you one day,’ but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. He said, ‘I’ll make an appointment with your secretary and I’ll be there at that time.’
“He came in and just like anything else, he had every bit of paperwork, every computation, everything he wanted to talk about that day he presented to me that day,” Taylor said.
The warden called Billue the consummate professional.
“But once he got done talking, he said, ‘Warden, they say you’re a man of your word; I’m going to say this to you, he said you handle it and he pointed his finger at me and said or I will.’”
Dozier and Taylor later presented family members with a plaque honoring Billue for service. Another plaque, depicting his badge, was also presented to Billue’s family.
Just two weeks after Baldwin State Prison Deputy Warden Regina Womble got to the Milledgeville prison in 2011, she said Billue approached her about a position opening in the warehouse.
She told him to come and talk with her in two weeks.
“Once he came to my office, he came there with that big old smile that he always had,” Womble said. “I looked at his resume and let me tell you, it was unparallel to any resume I’ve ever read. I looked at Billue and I said, this your resume, and he said, ‘Yes ma’am.’ And I said, well you don’t need that warehouse job, you need my job.”
She described Billue as a man who was loyal and gave selfless service.
Pastor Harold J. Banks spoke on forgiveness during the service.
“I think what Curtis would want you to acknowledge God by forgiving those who committed this atrocity against him and you,” Banks said. “I know forgiving ain’t easy. You don’t have to tell me. Most of us have had our hearts broke. Most of us have had somebody taken out of our lives. But somewhere we must forgive.
“Because as long as you hold malice in your heart toward them, the more they control you,” Banks said. “You give those people power over your life.”