MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Sgt. Christopher “Chris” James Monica was remembered Tuesday as a soft-hearted family man who liked doing for others, including his co-workers, and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
That’s the way the Rev. Mac Enfinger of Milledgeville First United Methodist Church described him to hundreds of mourners attending Monica’s funeral. Many of those who attended the service and burial that immediately followed were colleagues of Monica’s with the Georgia Department of Corrections, while many others represented law enforcement agencies from throughout Georgia, Alabama, and as far away as Oregon and Nevada.
Several deputies and detectives with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, as well as officers and detectives with the Milledgeville Police Department also attended. A number of local firefighters with Baldwin County Fire Rescue and Milledgeville Fire were also on hand.
It marked the second time in three days that funeral services were held for a state corrections officer killed in the line-of-duty. Monica, 42, and Sgt. Curtis Billue, also of Milledgeville, were shot to death during a prison bus escape by Donnie Rowe, 43, and Ricky Dubose, 24.
The escapes were recaptured in Rutherford County, Tenn. last Thursday following a massive nationwide manhunt by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
“It is a rainy day in Georgia, but the sun will come out, Amen,” said Enfinger. “And so it is this morning that in a piece of scripture that I want to read to you. It reminds us that no matter what our days are, it’s one I love and many of you have heard over and over again. It comes from the Gospel of John, the 14th chapter. Listen to these words, as recorded: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God and also believe in me.’”
He said that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.
“The tension is here,” said Enfinger. “It’s unimaginable. It’s almost unbearable. You can’t cut it with a knife. You can’t release yourself from the grip of it.”
Enfinger said the only thing that really helps is holding on to each other, holding hands, as he spoke directly to Monica’s wife, Denise.
“You’re holding on just the best that you can, and we’re all doing that,” said Enfinger.
Since the news of the tragedy a week ago, many have tried to do everything humanly possible not to make such a day come about, he said.
“Our senses tell us, it just can’t be real; there’s just no way,” said Enfinger. “But here it is.”
He said the tragedy cut a life short.
“It’s almost too much, yet we are gathered here,” he continued. “We’re gathered here on this day for everyone to see. We are gathered here as much as we tried to avoid it. And now we come face-to-face with reality. That Chris is now resting — not in our current home, but in the eternal home.”
Enfinger called Chris Monica a disciple, a man who was deeply faithful to the God he served.
Earlier, Georgia Department of Corrections Commission Greg Dozier addressed the standing room only crowd that seemingly stood in every hallway of the church.
“As I was preparing to come today to speak to the Monicas and all of the loved ones who are here, I tried to think of how we could honor Sgt. Christopher Monica,” Dozier said. “That’s a tough thing. How do you honor someone that has given so much?”
Dozier said he appreciated the songs of praise that helped comfort him before the service and he was sure they comforted others, too.
“For me, it helped and I hope it helped you,” Dozier said.
The DOC commissioner thanked all of those there from various law enforcement agencies that drove so far to pay their respects.
He also thanked several state senators and representatives that attended the funeral.
Dozier said he was going to speak and end with the word, love.
“And we show that love to you, because your husband showed that love for us,” said Dozier, as he turned and looked directly at the officer’s widow, Denise.
Dozier said Monica stood for many things.
“I’ve heard stories about laughter; I’ve heard stories about the family and how he provided for you guys,” Dozier said. “I know how he worked outside of this job. I know how he cared for the girls and the grandkids.”
Dozier said he kept coming back to how Monica provided.
“I kept thinking of sustainment,” he said. “And as I looked at the book of Psalms this week, there was one verse that has helped me and I hope helps you guys. That’s Psalms 55:22.”
He quoted the scripture: “Cast those burdens upon the Lord for He will sustain you.”
Dozier said he believed that was what Chris Monica did for everyone.
“He was a sustainer,” he added. “And I believe now that we need to look to the Lord for that sustainability.”
Dozier summed Monica up by saying that the veteran officer shared his love with his family, his department of corrections family, and with his church family.
Dozier said he wanted the Monica family to know that Chris Monica was loved.
“We love you guys,” Dozier said. “And I pray over the next few weeks that we show that love to you. And if you need something, just ask.”
Dozier later presented the family with a plaque honoring Monica. The family was also presented a plaque depicting Monica’s badge he wore as a state corrections officer.
Baldwin State Prison Warden Cedric Taylor also shared comments about Monica.
“I’d love to piggyback off something the commissioner said on Saturday when we start talking about love,” Taylor said. “Love to some people is just a word they use in an extra time or a moment, but this week I have seen that in action. I’ve seen that actually come straight for Sgt. Monica.”
Taylor said sharing time with the Monica family this week had been overwhelming to him.
He said he had heard all kinds of stories about who Chris Monica really was.
Taylor said when he took over as warden at Baldwin State Prison there were a lot of issues.
“We looked for someone who could take that and embrace and take it on,” Taylor said. “Sgt. Monica brought that work home with him everyday.”
The warden recalled times when it was a struggle for the prison to pass an audit.
“But when Sgt. Monica took it over, we made 100 on that portion of the audit,” Taylor said. “I just want to give him a round of applause.”
Thunderous applause could be heard from throughout the large sanctuary.
Brooke Lawson, one of Monica’s nieces, also spoke to the large crowd about the man she got to know and love with all her heart.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the tragedy and the grief we feel right now,” said Lawson, her voice choking with emotion. “This week has been humbling, and we’re comforted by the love in the family that is Chris Monica.”
Lawson said the family deeply appreciates the love shown during the past seven days.
“Everyone shares the same story of a man who loved us deeply,” said Lawson.
She shared a story about how Monica first met his wife, Denise, 17 years ago. Monica was living in Milledgeville at the time, while Denise was living in New York.
Lawson said the couple met in a chat room before some of the popular dating sites came along.
“She talked about him all the time,” Lawson said of her uncle’s romance with her aunt.
One day Denise decided to pack up everything she owned, including packing things that belonged to her then 13-year-old daughter, Ashley.
“She moved from New York to Georgia having never met Chris face to face before,” said Lawson.
That was 17 years ago.
There relationship turned more serious and later the couple married.
“He gave her anything she ever wanted,” said Lawson. “They genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.”