CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Friends and family say to know Fred Thornton was to love him, respect him and laugh with him.
You can see the emotion in friends' eyes and hear it crack in their voices when they talk about the SWAT officer killed in an accident last Friday.
"He had more charisma than anybody I knew,” said friend and fellow SWAT member Jim Hetrick. "Fred wore his emotions on his sleeve."
He loved his family, his job and his relationships.
"The police department was the only job he ever had,” said his brother Tom Thornton
Fred went to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. He wasn’t wielding a badge and a gun, but instead he went as a regular guy wearing a hat backwards, putting a mother and child's concerns at ease.
To know him was to respect him.
"He was my mentor,” said friend and SWAT member John Melekian.
He'd seen nearly everything in 28 years on the force.
"After so many years officers get burnt out. Fred just got stronger,” Melekian said.
He cheered for the Carolina Panthers and worked their games.
"He knew the people in his section. The fans that sat there knew Fred by his first name. He'd shake hands,” Hetrick said.
When he was off the clock he liked to enjoy a Coors Light.
"Football and Coors Light went hand in hand,” said Melekian.
Although he drove a police car by day, he traded it in for a Harley Davidson on the weekends
"Linda, his wife, had one so they rode together for a pretty good while,” Tom Thornton said.
Eyes well with tears and voices crack with emotion and friends share so many heartfelt, simple, meaningful truths measuring Fred Thornton.
"You have that little bit of sadness at the loss of Fred but when I start getting down I think of I'm happy that he lived and privileged that I had a chance to know him and the tears that I've cried are not for Fred, but for the people who never had a chance to know him or learn from him as I have,” Hetrick said.