- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2016

When Jacai Colson told friends he had applied to become a police officer, the news surprised those close to the guy with the infectious smile who was always the cheerful life of the party during his time at Randolph-Macon College.

“There was no way this funny, friendly guy was a cop,” said Katie Buryk, who befriended Officer Colson her first year at the school in Ashland, Virginia, in 2006.

Police work ran in his family — Officer Colson’s grandfather was a Pennsylvania police officer — but friends said Jacai Colson was not outspoken about a desire to go into law enforcement as he earned his business economics degree from Randolph-Macon.

But after he was sworn onto the Prince George’s County Police Department in 2012, eventually becoming an undercover narcotics officer, his talent as a leader and his desire to give back to others made the uniform and badge seem like a natural fit.

Bianca Johnson, a friend who jokingly called Officer Colson her “third roommate” in college because of the amount of time he spent hanging out at the apartment she and Ms. Buryk rented, said his decision to become a cop was unexpected.

“But I think it was the giving back he liked,” Ms. Johnson said. “Because he was such good guy, I think he wanted to help the community.”

PHOTOS: Jacai Colson recalled by Randolph-Macon friends as unlikely cop, 'high-character guy'

It was that dedication to the community that colleagues praised Monday as they mourned Officer Colson’s death.

Officer Colson, 28, died Sunday after he was struck by friendly fire during a shootout with a gunman who had launched an unprovoked attack on a Prince George’s County Police station in Palmer Park.

Police said Officer Colson pulled up to the District 3 police station just after Michael Ford opened fire on officers exiting the building. Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski called Officer Colson “a hero,” saying he fired at Mr. Ford, momentarily drawing the shooter’s attention away from the police station and affording officers a chance to exit and take cover. No other officers were injured.

Colleagues, who were heartbroken over the tragic nature of Officer Colson’s death, praised his courage in facing down the threat to come to the aid of his fellow officers.

“He was a presented with a situation he didn’t ask for,” said Fraternal Order of Police President John Teletchea. “He reacted to protect his fellow police officers and his community.”

Officer Colson’s parents, James and Sheila Colson, stood with police at Monday’s news conference but did not make any statement.

Grief over Officer Colson’s death fanned out across the mid-Atlantic region Monday.

Officials in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, where Officer Colson graduated from Chichester High School, ordered flags lowered to half-staff in his honor. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch issued a statement praising Officer Colson as a “proud defender of the law.”

Meanwhile, professors from Randolph-Macon College recalled a passionate and engaged student who enjoyed learning about other cultures and volunteering at home.

While in school, Officer Colson was active in a Brothers 4 Change, a group that undertook community service projects such as preparing Thanksgiving baskets and delivering Christmas gifts to families, and mentoring local youths. He sang in the Ujima Gospel Choir, traveled to Ghana as part of a school trip and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity.

U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, Virginia Republican and a former economics professor who served as Officer Colson’s academic adviser, said Jacai Colson was an absolute joy to have in class.

Jacai Colson was a great man, a great student and a great friend of mine,” Mr. Brat said. “His smile was contagious, and he made friends everywhere he went.”

Officer Colson played football at the college. His coach said his positive and upbeat personality made him popular.

“He had a lot of friends on campus. Everybody liked him,” coach Pedro Arruza told The Associated Press. “He was just a really high-character guy.”

To keep up with the friends he made in college, Officer Colson loved attending homecoming games and did so several years since his 2009 graduation, Ms. Buryk said. The pair planned to return last year, but Ms. Buryk was unable to go after she injured her ankle and couldn’t drive from New York.

Determined to make sure she didn’t miss out on all the fun, Ms. Buryk said Officer Colson called her with a video chat to take her on a tour of the tailgate action at the homecoming game.

“He made everyone happy,” she said. “He was the guy who would come to a room and put a smile on your face.”

That same bright spirit and big smile were also well known to his fellow Prince George’s County police officers.

Jacai could light up a room,” said Mr. Teletchea of the FOP. “He lit up everybody’s life he touched.”

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