SPINDALE, N.C. -- Hundreds stood silently Friday evening on the campus of Isothermal Community College as the sound of 20 hooves of five jet-black horses ridden by members of North Carolina's Highway Patrol Caisson Unit transported the casket of fallen North Carolina Trooper John Horton.
The image was a moving and symbolic tribute to the well-known and beloved 15-year veteran of the force, also a husband and father of six. The moment Friday, Jan. 7, was the culmination of a difficult week for the community in Rutherford County, and an even harder one for Horton's immediate family.
Horton died during a traffic stop he made Monday night around 9 p.m.
"People tend to say good things in bad situations, but people haven't had to search to find good things to say about John," said 1st Sgt. Chris Knox. "It makes this week just that harder, to hear what a role model he was for kids, and just a devoted husband and family member."
"Everyone was saying, 'Please tell me this isn't true,'" said Pam Jones, who knew Horton and his two brothers, including Trooper James "Nick" Horton, 36.
"I found out pretty early it was one of the Horton brothers because there were three of them that were highway patrol at one point," said Debbie Allen. "It was hard to comprehend what was going on. Then when I started to hear it was his brother who came to back him up, it was hard to even talk."
Earlier Friday, a procession of more than 100 highway patrol officers driving in formation on motorcycles and following in patrol cars drove through Spindale, up College Avenue, and onto Isothermal's campus.
Leading the procession was the hearse carrying Horton. People parked and then stood to watch the procession, one bringing an American flag, another woman wearing a red, white and blue scarf to honor Horton and his service to the community.
A highway patrol spokesman said Horton made a traffic stop Monday night, Jan. 3, of a motorcyclist around 9 p.m. and called for back-up.
His brother, fellow Trooper James "Nick" Horton, responded, but lost control of his vehicle and crashed into both his brother and the motorcyclist. Both the motorcyclist, Dusty Beck, and Trooper Horton were struck and killed. The SBI and HWP Accident Collision Reconstruction Unit continue to work the investigation.
First Sgt. Chris Knox said it was well-known among the force how close the two Horton brothers were.
"It's a bond so strong between the brothers," said Knox. "They sought out being able to work together, their off time was together. The stories of them hunting together, fishing together, and playing video games together."
Knox said the investigation of what led to the crash will be thorough but won't conclude for several weeks.
"We understand it was not just our members involved in this, so we owe everyone involved in this the very best of what we can bring to the table, from an investigative standpoint," Knox said.
Friday a service to remember Trooper Horton brought more than 500 people to Isothermal's auditorium.
Many who came to the service and to the procession expressed their support for Trooper Nick Horton and the entire family that must face a future without John.
"We appreciate everything John and his brother have both done," said Randy Whitener, from Rutherfordton. "And I hate it for his brother. Just hang in there, buddy. It'll get better, it'll get better."
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