SPINDALE — Highway Patrol Master Trooper John Horton’s funeral dealt with the extraordinary circumstances of his passing and even his prediction of his own memorial.
Friend, cousin, and what he called, “more importantly brother in Christ,” Ryan Owens said it had not been long since Horton had said, “I want you to speak at my funeral,” and added, “Wouldn’t it be good to get everybody together and have ‘em hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”
He went on to share the Gospel, reading more than a dozen scriptures defining Jesus as both “creator God,” and “redeemer.”
Both Owens and NCHP Col. Freddie Johnson Jr. spoke with voices choked with emotion.
Johnson quoted several family members and spoke of the love that would sustain them through the bizarre circumstances of Horton’s brother and fellow trooper, Nick, whose patrol car crashed, killing both Horton and a detained motorist who were standing on the side of the road on Jan. 3.
The capacity crowd of roughly 1,400 at Isothermal Community College’s The Foundation witnessed pageantry and ceremony as the deceased trooper’s coffin circled the event center carried by a mounted patrol honor guard and followed by an even larger marching honor guard and a riderless horse led by another trooper.
The coffin was draped with the state flag of North Carolina.
The Rev. Ronald Roberts opened and closed the service with prayer and delivered an emotional eulogy praising Horton for his faithfulness, love of family, community and the state of North Carolina.
He drew laughter from the congregation when he alluded to Horton’s “bus or van or whatever that thing is,” that was used to carry his wife and six children to church. Roberts said a sign on the back of the van reads, “If a kid falls out, just honk.”
But it was Johnson who dealt with the mystifying circumstances that brought hundreds of officers from several states, including honor guard members from Georgia and Virginia.
“Since receiving the news Monday night (Jan. 3), nothing about this has made sense,” Johnson said. “Do not feel rushed to make sense of this and do not hesitate to cry.”
Johnson spoke with the family in the days leading up to Friday’s (Jan. 7) service and quoted Horton’s father, Leslie, who communicated to Nick, the driver of the ill-fated patrol car, “Your father loves you and is proud of you.” He also quoted Horton’s widow, Ashley, who said the love of the family and their faith would sustain them through this. He quoted a third brother, Joe, who said, “I am always proud to call you brother.”
Johnson quoted John 3:20 from the Christian texts assuring friends and family they will see Horton again. The top NCHP officer also shared words from Nick to the rest of the family, “I always looked up to my big brother, and I will always love you.”
Owens used his rumbling baritone to offer a list of Bible verses that called his listeners to faith and belief. He concluded by saying, “Take this seriously. John did.”
The Heritage trio performed “Because He Loves Me,” “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms,” and “What A Day That Will Be.”
The family processed into the vaulted hall to an instrumental rendition of “Rock Of Ages,” on fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass. An instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” by the same musicians was played between speakers. The group included: Jamey Spratt — vocals and fiddle, Karen and Mattie Spratt — vocals, James Henson — guitar, Michael Ballard — Mandolin, and Zane Ballard — Upright Bass.
More than 30 massive flower arrangements crowded the stage. A slideshow of photos from Horton’s life played on the big screen and left little doubt of his devotion to wife and family.
Roberts compared Horton to Abraham from Genesis 18 in the Hebrew texts and said, “When Daddy believes God, certain wonderful things come to pass.”
He talked about how the six Horton children are inspired to excellence in sports because, “even though God gave them the gifts, Mama and Daddy have encouraged the excellence.”
Police and sheriff’s departments came from Buncombe County, Spartanburg, Belmont, Iredell County, High Point, Mecklenburg County, Sugar Mountain, Gardner Webb University, and Black Mountain to name only a few. More than 50 black and silver NCHP cars accompanied the casket from Harrelson Mortuary and Cremation Services to The Foundation.
One local trooper, Todd Gantt, who knew Horton and worked with him said, “He was just a real good man. He told great stories and was a good Christian.”
Patriot Riders, a motorcycle club with members from Franklin, Hendersonville, and Waynesville kept vigil outside holding American flags and were joined by two local men, Tim Bridges and Eric Johnson.
Mourners stood outside in the cold for well over an hour until the doors of The Foundation were opened and several hundred waited even longer because of the size of the crowd. Lines stretched around the building in both directions. NCHP Sgt. Marcus Bethea emceed the service and thanked all who attended but gave special thanks to the college and The Foundation staff. Harrelson Funeral and Cremation Services handled details.
Johnson said if all the tributes that had come locally and nationally were read, “We’d be here all night. It has been absolutely amazing.”