He put his life on the line in the name of public service and paid the ultimate price. However, the preaching of the gospel in which he believed brought five to Christ during the service, a blessing within a tragedy that those who knew Hinkle said he would have celebrated.
Hundreds of members of law enforcement from agencies across the country attended the service at Sullivan Central High School, where Hinkle once served as a school resource officer. They, along with hundreds more folks, participated in a procession down Interstate 81 and Interstate 26 as the hearse bearing Hinkle’s flag-draped casket made its way to Oak Hill Cemetery for a graveside service that included the playing of taps, a 21-shot salute and “Amazing Grace” performed by a lone bagpiper.
A trio of law enforcement helicopters and a small plane made flyovers.
It took almost as much time for all the attendees to park and gather as it did to complete the graveside service.
At the service at Central, Mike Malone thanked everyone for the overwhelming support and love shown to Hinkle’s family this week, noting the family — and the SCSO — have hard days ahead and still need your prayers.
Malone remembered Hinkle as kind, gentle and loving — a man who came to work with a smile even during times of personal heartache.
Malone noted civil authority existed even in Old Testament days, and Hinkle was fatally injured when he was among officers responding to a request to check on someone’s well-being.
“He was going to help someone,” Malone said. “That’s what we do. We try to protect the innocent people. .... Steve loved his job, he loved doing it. Steve not only loved bringing peace and safety to men and women, but had a relationship with his Lord. He was not only a cop, but a Christian. He loved the Lord. When Steve’s heart beat the last time ... the Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord ... he immediately left that body here behind and went to be with the Lord. And Steve trusted the Lord.”
Tim Price, Hinkle’s pastor at Holy Mountain Baptist Church, said law enforcement can be a calling, not just a job, and it was a calling for Hinkle. Ultimately, that meant serving that calling all the time, good or bad, and ultimately it leads you to take on the responsibility, regardless of the risks, Price noted.
Price said Hinkle’s family had told him to preach the truth at the service. And he did preach, first quoting John 15:13: “ ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’
“To be a police officer means that sacrifice is a reality, and sometimes it leads, as it has with Brother Steve ... to the ultimate sacrifice,” Price said. “Officers and their families live with that reality every day. But one of the reasons they are willing to do that is because of love. They love their community; they love the people that make up that community. They love us enough to put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from that danger. That is part of what drove Brother Steve. Love. Love for people. Love for the other officers he served with and even love for the calling itself.”
Price went on preaching on “a love that’s even greater,” that of God for humanity — such love that “He allowed Christ to die for us when we were the enemies of God. Christ died for me, not when I was a friend, but when I was an enemy. That’s a love greater than a man or a woman can ever exhibit.”
Price followed up with an altar call asking all to close their eyes and for anyone that wanted to ask Christ into their heart to raise their hand, which only he would see. He counted them off, one by one, and in the end led five to say a short prayer asking Christ to forgive their sins and come into their heart. Price also asked them to follow up with him or a pastor elsewhere to keep on the path.
Price said Hinkle’s family had said beforehand that it would be wondrous if even one person answered the call during the service.
All that happened a week to the day since Hinkle and other officers responded to the home of Jackie Scott Pendergrass for a welfare check, as he had reportedly threatened to harm himself. When police arrived, Pendergrass, 44, opened fire.
Officers took cover and tried to negotiate with Pendergrass, according to the TBI. Authorities say that after about 45 minutes, Pendergrass suddenly began shooting at police a second time.
In the exchange of gunfire that followed, Hinkle was shot and transported from the scene.
After several hours of trying to make contact with Pendergrass, police forced entry into his home and found him dead. The TBI says autopsy results show his fatal injury was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
For three days after the incident, Hinkle was listed in critical condition at Bristol Regional Medical Center. He passed away on Tuesday.