Some called him a great guy. Others called him a hero. A few even called him a patriot.
And while many of those phrases are often tossed around when someone close to us passes, in the case of Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Curtis A. Bartlett, those words ring particularly true. Bartlett was tragically taken as a result of a crash in Hillsville while responding to assist fellow officers in a chase Thursday night. The influence he had on so many people in Carroll County was proudly displayed Friday at memorials at Hillsville Elementary School and Carroll County High School.
While he had switched to full-time duties with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office in January, Bartlett, 32, joined the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department’s Student Resource Officer (SRO) program in August. Stationed at Hillsville Elementary School, the young officer rotated on a shift that included time at each of the county’s elementary schools.
Just a couple of days into the job last August, he was already fitting into the role as smoothly as a grizzled veteran. At the time, Sheriff J.B. Gardner gushed over Bartlett’s ability to reach elementary-aged kids.
“He’s just a heck of a good guy and he understands what his purpose with SRO is – to protect our babies. The kids love him already,” Gardner said back in August. “They are hugging him and giving him high fives.”
At Hillsville Elementary School, where Bartlett was stationed for his SRO duties, a memorial was located in front of the office of the school Friday. The memorial included a teddy bear Bartlett left at the school as part of a teddy bear parade, an American flag, pictures of the beloved officer, as well as cards placed by students Friday.
“He was great with the kids. They loved him, especially if they made a good grade on one of their quizzes or tests, he would do push-ups for him and they just thought that was awesome,” said HES Assistant Principal Jake Beamer.
HES Principal Samantha Reed said Bartlett had posted a challenge for every 100 a student brought to him on a quiz or test, he would do five pushups. That promise resulted in one particularly busy day for the SRO last fall.
“Because he wasn’t here every day, they racked up quickly,” Reed said. “One particular class had racked up about 500 pushups, but he came by one day and honored them.”
Reed said Bartlett cared so much about the kids at Hillsville Elementary, he would still stop by regularly even after going to the Sheriff’s Office full-time in January. Since his office was stationed at HES, Reed said the school was fortunate to see Bartlett more than others. His ongoing presence at the school made for a very solemn day Friday.
“The kids are sad, especially the ones that really spent the most time with him. You can see some sad faces here at school, but our staff is trying to take care of that and talking to them if they need to,” Beamer said.
“A lot of them will come by the front office and I have seen a lot of kids stop and hug the bear or look at the pictures we have put out there,” Reed said. “They are handling it as best as they can.”
Aside from his time with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, Bartlett was fresh off nearly 10 deployments to Iraq, where he worked Diplomatic Security for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as a member of the Emergency Response Team. Those experiences, as well as his well-maintained physique, made him a larger-than-life figure to students.
“The kids looked up to him. He was a hero to them,” Beamer said. “He was a strong-looking guy, muscles – all the kids just thought he was something else. He was a great guy. He loved kids and he lived life to the fullest.”
As an auxiliary officer with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, Bartlett worked shifts with the department without pay in between deployments to Iraq, showing his dedication and passion for the job. It was that attitude and that kind of commitment that made him a favorite of his fellow law enforcement officers. Kevin Kemp, a Student Resource Officer at Carroll County High School, said they don’t come any better than Deputy Bartlett.
“He was a great police officer. Not only a great police officer, but just a great guy. He cared about the citizens of the community, the children, and he came to work every day and gave every bit of his self to his job to help everybody the best that he could,” Kemp said Friday. “Curtis was the All-American guy. He was athletic and he was fun. He was a guy that you just wanted to hang out with and be friends with. He just wanted to help people. His heart was with helping people and he showed that in the most excellent way. We are all better for knowing him. He made us better.”
Kemp said the local law enforcement community is heartbroken by Bartlett’s much-too-early passing. But his influence goes much further than that.
“He gave in every way he possibly could to his country, his community, to everybody he came in contact with, he gave 110 percent to help,” Kemp said. “We can’t thank Curtis enough for what he gave to our community and for what he has done for everybody. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Bartlett family.”
Bartlett was also remembered Friday at Carroll County High School, where students signed a massive banner and left well-wishes to his family. The banner was the idea of school counselor Diana Mishoe. In her school career, she said she has dealt crisis frequently.
“And this is one of the things we used to do that really seemed to get the kids to recognize their grief – kind of like a sympathy card but on a massive scale. And then we like to share with the family or maybe even the Sheriff’s Department because you know those guys are having a hard time,” Mishoe said. “But you can see how the kids are reacting. As soon as I said it is over here, there were all there signing it. I think all of them were touched in some way.”
Sophomore Brittany Stone said she wanted to do something for Bartlett because she loves dogs and she heard he trained dogs.
“That kind of made me want to try to do something. I know there is not a whole lot I can do, but it still made me want to express my feelings in some way and show respect,” Stone said.
Fellow sophomore Haley Hall said many of her friends were good friends with Bartlett. They were crying and very upset Friday.
“The reason I signed is because I want to show respect and because he served and it is really tragic,” Hall said.
But to understand Bartlett’s popularity with the children he worked with possibly requires his own words.
“I love kids. I am the oldest of five, and having no kids of my own I have a lot of love to give,” Bartlett said in an interview with The Carroll News last August. “I grew up with younger siblings so I have always loved kids either through church or high school, so to me it is the best of both worlds.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]