BROOKHAVEN, Miss. (WLBT) - Former Brookhaven Police Chief Bobby Bell choked up Monday as he talked about Lt. Marzell Brooks, his friend and protege who died Sunday of CoViD-19.
“This community has lost a jewel. They have lost a jewel, and I think they have realized it already," Bell said. "He was special, and like I say, I loved him.”
Former Chief Pap Henderson, who also mentored and taught Brooks as he came up the ranks since he was a young officer, shared Bell’s sentiments.
“This one hit me hard,” he said.
Brooks, a 28-year veteran of Brookhaven Police Department, died unexpectedly Sunday, stunning the town of Brookhaven he loved so much.
Brooks was known by almost everyone, because even when he wasn’t in his role as a school resource officer, he was helping members of the community by washing their cars or bringing home their kids, and never asking for anything in return.
Coach Tucker Peavey, the head football coach and athletic director at Brookhaven High School, went to school with Brooks when they were younger. He said he spoke to Brooks every day, whether by phone or over text. He said Brooks was worried.
“We talked after he had tested positive and you could hear the concern in his voice," Peavey said. "You know every morning I wanted to hear how he was doing. You know we actually talked back and forth Sunday morning, so it was a shock. I lost a friend and a lot of people did.”
Brooks escorted the football teams to their games each week, a task he took seriously but also enjoyed to the hilt. Chief Kenny Collins said when the Panthers would win a road game, Brooks would call him and say, “Hey Chief, they won. Can I escort them back right?”
That would mean with lights and sirens through the streets of Brookhaven, celebrating the victory. Collins said he’d get calls from citizens, and he’d just say, “That’s Lt. Brooks escorting the Panthers home. They won tonight.”
Brooks contracted coronavirus while working at the schools just before they shut down again. He was very careful about his mask, Bell said, and was very concerned about trying to stay healthy. But he was not going to let the fear of infection keep him from the children he felt duty-bound to protect.
“He said ‘Chief, this is what I do. I take care of the kids,’ and he gave his life taking care of the kids in the community,” Collins said.
The fact that he was infected at work means Brooks' death will be considered a line of duty death.
Brooks is the fifth Brookhaven or Lincoln County law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty since 2017. The law enforcement community has become closer in the last three years, and each time is a reminder of how small the county of 34,000 really is.
“It’s not just a job, we’re family,” Constable Kelly Porter said. “Marzell, I considered a family member. He would send me messages on holidays, you know, ‘Merry Christmas, Happy Thanksgiving,’ that sort of thing, and that just showed that he was a caring person beyond work.”
His friends say Brooks leaves a legacy of friendship, hard work, and joyful enthusiasm in everything he did. But looking forward to going on without him is unbearable, Collins says.
“Officer Brooks, he can’t be replaced. Right now I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have no idea. I don’t know," he said. "Because how do you say goodbye?”