Hundreds gathered Saturday at St. Joseph Catholic Church and Elmwood Cemetery to mourn the death and celebrate the life of Forest Acres police officer Greg Alia.
Alia, 32, a seven-year veteran of the Forest Acres Police Department, was shot and killed Wednesday morning by a suspect in Richland Mall. His funeral Mass and burial services were swarmed with police officers and law enforcement officials, including Forest Acres Police Chief Gene Sealy, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.
Some mourners who packed into the downtown Columbia church, including police from departments across South Carolina, wore blue ribbons in support of police.
Alia on Saturday was recalled as a gentle, patient protector who sought to serve others before himself.
Christine Corbly, one of Alia’s sisters who spoke at the funeral Mass, said Alia’s overwhelming love and happiness were evident in the way he treated his family, friends and those he protected as a police officer.
“This is not the first time my brother rushed into danger, and if things had been different, it wouldn’t have been the last,” Corbly said. “This is not what made my brother a hero. What made my brother a hero was that every day he got up, put on his uniform, loved his family, loved his son, loved his wife, was full of commitment and happiness and contentment that he poured into everything he did. He gave it his all.”
Corbly, who is older than Alia, said she used to read to him stories about heroes, warriors and adventure when they were kids. She said Alia wasn’t usually drawn to the main character, preferring the sidekicks instead for their loyalty, selflessness and sacrifice.
“It seems that is the man he tried to become – strong and brave, selfless,” Corbly said. “Never the star, never the center, but rather the one who sacrificed himself so the hero could escape and save the day.”
Monsignor Richard Harris, who delivered the homily at the funeral Mass, said Alia always looked for the good in others and that even when there wasn’t much good to find, he was still patient and understanding.
“We will miss Gregory Alia – his voice, a touch, a smile, and a presence that will be longed for in the weeks, months and years to come,” Harris said. “And there is the wish to say just one more, ‘I love you.’”
Corbly thanked those in attendance for the outpouring of support the family has received over the past few days, most of all the memories of her brother that friends shared with them. A GoFundMe set up by Alia’s Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity brothers at the University of South Carolina had raised nearly 3,500 donations, amounting to nearly $175,000, as of Saturday afternoon.
That support also was visible on the way to Alia’s burial service, said Chris Scott, who grew up with Alia in Forest Acres and went to USC and then California with him before he came back to South Carolina to become a police officer.
Officers and others lined the streets throughout Columbia, the officers saluting the funeral procession as it drove from St. Joseph’s on Devine Street to the cemetery on Elmwood Avenue.
“It blew me away,” Scott said. “There were officers at every corner. They saluted every time. Outside of every shop on the way, there were people standing there.”
Scott said the driver of the hearse he rode said that in the more than 1,800 funerals he had worked, he had never seen anything like that.
“To see this tidal wave of support and people that Greg knew and touched – he was the most magnetic, charming guy,” Scott said. “I think his greatest superpower was he could not just make friends, but he could bring people together and form groups of friends and then bring them together. I know hundreds of people here, all through Greg, and every single one of them has an amazing, incredible story.”
As Alia’s friends and family wiped tears from their eyes and exchanged hugs after the burial service, a long line formed, full of officers waiting to give a final salute.
Want to help?
First Citizens banks across South Carolina are accepting donations for the Alia family through the Law Enforcement Chaplains for South Carolina Emergency Fund.
Online, two fundraising pages have been set up on GoFundMe.com. The Greg Alia Memorial Fund was created by one of Alia’s fraternity brothers from Phi Sigma Kappa at the University of South Carolina. The FARMA Supports the Alia Family page was created by the Forest Acres Restaurant and Merchant Association.