The packed sanctuary at Harvest Church of God fell silent when the funeral began with a video clip of Sollohub skydiving. The 27-year-old officer’s face filled two flat screens hung from the church ceiling.
Wide-eyed, Sollohub grinned at the camera.
“I guess it’s going to be the thrill of my life,” he said on the video.
Murmurs echoed through the sanctuary as moments later as the camera captured Sollohub launching himself from a plane. He was in free-fall, his bright orange jumpsuit flapping wildly in the open wind.
It was a fitting beginning for a service that, in the words of Sollohub’s girlfriend, aimed to celebrate his action-filled life.
“Justin was not just my boyfriend, not just the love of my life, not just my soulmate,” Brooklyn Wesley said to the funeral attendees. “He was my best friend.”
Sollohub was shot Aug. 24 while on routine patrol; he died when UAB medical personnel took him off life support the next day.
Wesley, Anniston Sgt. Nick Bowles and Blake Arthur, a college fraternity brother of Sollohub’s, spent the first hour of the funeral taking turns at the microphone as they told stories about the slain officer. Arthur remembered Sollohub as a fun-loving Delta Chi at Jacksonville State University and talked about his unparalleled compassion for other people.
“Sollo at his worst was better than most people at their best,” Arthur said, voice breaking for a moment.
Later in the ceremony, one of Sollohub’s friends played two of his favorite songs on a guitar. As the first twangy chords of “Wagon Wheels” echoed through the room, Sollohub’s sister Stephany began to tap her feet, smiling as tears streamed down her face.
As a police officer killed while on duty, Sollohub was honored with a variety of law-enforcement funereal rituals. State troopers on mounted horses stood guard at the church doors. Honor guard groups from the Fraternal Order of Police, the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and the Alabama State Troopers took turns standing watch by the casket before the ceremony started. During the closing prayers outside the church, helicopters flew over the gathered mourners and officers fired three shots into the air.
As Taps sounded the closing of the two-and-a-half-hour ceremony, an oversized American flag snapped in the breeze from where it hung over Veterans Memorial Parkway. The bright, cloudless afternoon seemed a natural reinforcement of a comment Wesley made during the funeral.
“When Justin left this life on Wednesday, he was OK,” Wesley said. “The days I think I can’t go on, I know I can because he would want me to.
“I know that I can do it because, ‘in God I trust,’” Wesley said, quoting the words Sollohub wore tattooed on his arm.