By Vickie Welborn
(Reprinted with permission)
A jokester. A protector. A girl dad. Man of courage. Honorable. A lot like an M&M.
Those are just a few of the words used Friday morning to remember 53-year-old Deputy William Earl “Billy” Collins Jr., who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty on the night of July 9.
The Webster Parish sheriff’s deputy and Doyline police officer responded to a disturbance call of a suicidal man and stepped in to shield a woman when he was fatally shot.
“He served and protected until his very last breath,” said the Rev. Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers from throughout Louisiana and from other states joined Collins’ family and friends in celebrating his life in a funeral service at First Bossier.
The service was preceded by a series of photographs of Collins and his family, giving glimpses of Collins’ life. There were photos of him and his wife with their daughters through the years, images of Collins and his family enjoying vacation spots and even a young Collins as a Boy Scout.
“I know this will be a sad day. But the family wants everybody to know that this is a celebration of Billy’s life today. And I can hear him now, ‘Sheriff, boss, all this ain’t necessary.’ My reply back to Billy, ‘Buddy you deserve every bit of this. Sit back, pop you some popcorn and enjoy the show,’” Webster Parish Sheriff Jason Parker said. “He was not an easy man to blush, but we’re going to make him blush today.”
Parker said there were not enough words to eliminate the pain of Collins’ loss, but words could bring a smile. He recalled after he was elected Collins approached him with some thoughts on improvements at Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center, where Collins worked as a supervisor. “What I got was a five-page report that I know Billy didn’t type,” Parker said to laughter.
Parker said he was so impressed with Collins’ details and some of his suggestions on how to build on the operations and be more efficient and productive were implemented. Collins was “a man who loved his job and his community,” Parker said.
Without hesitation, Collins answered the call to serve and protect – a duty he held to the highest esteem.
“As much as he loved his family and God, he did his part to … respond to those in need, even in harm’s way,” Parker said. “That’s what he did last Friday … when he responded to someone in need.” Collins’ “selflessness” prevented someone else from taking a life, Parker said.
“Billy was a man of courage,” he added. “He will forever be celebrated for his sacrifice, for his loyalty, for his courage, for his love for his fellow man. Thank you, Billy. We love you brother.”
After the song “I Can Only Imagine,” a contemporary Christian song about Heaven, was played, Collins’ teenage daughter, Danielle, shared about her father.
Danielle Collins said he raised two strong daughters and always made sure his family was taken care of. She told stories of how he liked to joke to lighten the mood, including his rating of restaurant bathrooms. And she brought smiles by referencing the photographs over her shoulders of him wearing his full Doyline uniform with a boutonniere. That was the night of her prom but even though he was patrolling that night, he stopped to escort her while in his uniform.
“He chose everyday to wake up and put on that badge,” Danielle Collins said. “The Lord has a plan,” she said, ending with, “Thank you for being my dad, my friend and most of all my protector. I love you daddy.”
Doyline Police Chief Robert Hayden said Collins always told him he would make him shake in his boots one day. “He’s getting his wish today.” Hayden was in Wisconsin at his son’s wedding Friday night when he got the call about Collins, who worked part-time for the small police force. Collins and two Webster sheriff’s deputies responded to the disturbance call. “It was a nightmare in my little village,” said an emotional Hayden.
At the request of Collins’ family, Hayden recognized Lt. Chuck Clark and Sgt. Coby Barton, along with Deputy Tommy Maddox and Parker. Collins started working for the Doyline Police Department over four years ago. He wanted to serve his community and get to know everyone. Hayden did some checking before hiring Collins and said his coworkers at BDCC described him as “hard-headed” but with a “heart as big as this room.” The next obstacle, though, was getting the approval from Collins’ wife, Teresa. Hayden shared that on July 19, 1999, Teresa Collins lost her grandfather, Oklahoma Deputy Vernie Roberts, in the line of duty. Because of that, she was hesitant for Collins to work the streets.
But Hayden said he told her how long he had been doing the job and he didn’t think anything would happen inside the one square-mile village of Doyline because “we are good people.” Teresa Collins gave her blessing. It didn’t take a few weeks before Hayden started getting phone calls from Doyline residents about Collins. Most complaining about “this new man” writing speeding tickets, Hayden said with a smile. After a few weeks, the complaints stopped. Everybody started calling the new man, “Mr. Billy.”
Hayden offered words of encouragement to Collins’ wife, his mother and his two daughters. He knew them because Collins talked non-stop about them. But Hayden became emotional again when he said he learned “shots fired” and “officer down” rang out across his little town in North Louisiana. Then he remembered the conversation he had with Teresa Collins four years earlier and the “nightmare” she lived before and what he told her about Doyline. “It will always haunt me,” said a distraught Hayden.
“Serving the people is what he loved to do. He never complained about going out day or night. … It did not matter if he knew them or not. His only desire was to help any way he could. Today, I thank God for the time I had with Billy Collins,” Hayden said.
“Where do we go from here?” Hayden asked. “Myself and all the others who wear this badge and uniform, will leave here today and go out and serve and protect and do the very best job we can in our communities because that’s what God called us to do. …. Billy, you were my friend, my brother, fellow officer. I love you, will miss you, but I will see you again one day.”
Pastor Spinney offered words of comfort to Hayden and those who may feel responsibility for what happened to Collins. In the Bible, God says “all of the days of our lives” are known. “July 9, 2021. I don’t like that it was Billy’s last day but that’s the day God had written in his Book. So, it’s not your responsibility,” he told Teresa Collins and others. “It takes the weight off of us to know God has a perfect plan for our lives.” Billy Collins was a man of deep but private faith. Then again, he was a lot like an M&M, joked Spinney. He had a hard candy shell but inside was sweet – “with a heart as big as this room.”
Many in the room dabbed tears during the End of Watch call by the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“Your sacrifice will never be forgotten. Officer Billy Collins is 10-7.”
Webster deputies and Doyline officers filed past Collins’ casket at the end of the service, then were joined by the multitude of other law enforcement officers. Some stopped to salute, others simply touched the flag-draped casket as they passed by.
Their departure from the church sanctuary was to a 1969 rock hit called “Spirit in the Sky.”
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best
When I lay me down to die
Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
More than a mile-long procession of law enforcement, fire and EMS vehicles left the church along Texas Street to Hill Crest Memorial Park, where the graveside service was held. But just before getting there, the hearse was stopped so that Webster sheriff’s deputies, who were his pallbearers, could move the casket into a horse-drawn carriage.
A helicopter flyover, 21-gun salute and presentation of flags ended the service around 2 p.m.