Lowndes residents honor late Sheriff “Big John” with candlelight vigil

Published 11:09 am Friday, December 8, 2023

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Residents of Lowndes County and surrounding communities gathered in the Hayneville town square on Nov. 28 to pay homage to the late Sheriff “Big John” Williams at a candlelight vigil held annually to honor his memory.

Sheriff “Big John” Williams served as the Lowndes County Sheriff until he was shot and killed in Nov. 2019. The community has honored his memory with a candlelight vigil ever since. Sheriff 

Lowndes County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Prince Williams has attended the vigil many times and described what the event means to him as a deputy who had the opportunity to serve under Williams.

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“I actually started under Big John, so it [the vigil] has been something I’ve been a part of every year,” Williams expressed. “Being a part of it is not just a way to honor his legacy, but also to bring the community together to pay our respects to a man who was beyond words. This year was a little smaller than usual, but the same admiration was shown no matter what size the crowd was.”

The event was opened with prayer, followed by words from special guest speakers such as Sheriff Chris West, as well as songs performed by members of the community. Attendees lit their candles as the last song was performed and spent time fellowshipping with others who knew and loved the late sheriff.

According to West, while attendance at the event was sparse this year, the memories of Williams’ life and the legacy he left behind will continue to carry through Lowndes County.

“We had limited participation, but I think it went well,” West said. “It was just a small memorial to honor John’s legacy- a legacy that’s hard for me to follow.”

West described the large shoes he still works to fill after stepping into his role as Sheriff of Lowndes County and expressed pride in serving the community that Big John devoted his life to. 

“[Big John] was extremely dedicated to his craft,” West explained. “He was everywhere all the time. If a family had something going on, he was there. I haven’t mastered the ability to do that yet. He was from Lowndes County, and his family is from here, so he’s got roots here and he was in touch with the community all of his life. His legacy has been a lifetime of service, and so it’s hard to come behind someone like that who devoted their whole life to servicing a community.”

Williams was allegedly murdered in cold blood by William Chase Johnson, who was 18 at the time. Johnson remains in custody still awaiting trial, which is set to begin in October 2024.