A teen boy walked across the stage at Arkansas Tech University Friday evening to receive his high school diploma less than 24 hours after his father, a Johnson County reserve deputy, was shot and killed while confronting a burglary suspect.
David Hopkins, superintendent of the Clarksville School district, where Dakota Smith attended high school, said that although it was a difficult day for the teen and those close to him, the community rallied together to show their support, reported local media. Hopkins said teachers and other school staff, one by one, handed the teen’s mother individual roses, and students wore black ribbons to show their support for Dakota and his family.
Law enforcement from the surrounding areas attended Dakota’s graduation in his father’s stead. When the teen’s name was called, a standing ovation ensued, along with an emotional applause which remained strong until Dakota took his seat again.
“It took a lot of courage for him and his family to be here tonight,” Hopkins added. “And I know that’s where their dad would want them to be.”
Dakota’s father, Sonny Smith, had volunteered as a reserve deputy for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department for 11 years before he was killed. He was also a security guard at a local nuclear power plant for six years, as well as a U.S. Navy veteran.
Authorities received a call around 1 a.m. Friday about a burglary, and an hour and a half later, Smith came in contact with the suspect, who was later identified as Fred Kauffeld, according to a release by the Arkansas State Police.
During the confrontation, Kauffeld opened fire, striking Smith, who returned fire. Kauffeld only suffered minor injuries, but Smith was rushed to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Kauffeld was apprehended a short time later and booked into the Pope County Detention Center. It’s unknown at this time what charges he will face, as the investigation is ongoing.
Smith was the first deputy to die in the line of Duty in Johnson County since 1902, and local residents are leaving their porch lights on this week to show honor for the fallen officer.