Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Detective Bobby Bowers was named Jacksonville's Police Officer of the Year at a ceremony Thursday morning.
The award was for Bowers' dedication as the lead detective in the murder investigation of Jacksonville teenager Makia Coney.
Coney, 17, was shot and killed in February by two of her classmates, and her body was found in a ditch on Powers Avenue. Two days after her death, police arrested Charles Southern and Connor Pridgen. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to life in prison.
Bowers said he developed a bond with the Coney family during one of the most tragic times of their lives. Bowers said it was one of the most emotionally jarring cases he's worked in his 15 years with the Sheriff's Office.
"It was a horrendous crime," Bowers said. "She didn't deserve to be a victim of a brutal murder that she was. The boys that did it -- her schoolmates -- they never showed any emotion."
Bowers said he knew first by instinct that Southern and Pridgen were guilty, but he said the hardest part was proving it.
"The boys were cool -- they were cool-headed," Bowers said. "They showed no emotion when we brought them in. We talked to them time after time. We went to their houses. We talked to the family, and things just kept falling together."
Bowers was honored not just for doing good detective work, but also for his dedication and compassion in bringing closure to Coney's family.
"Detective Bowers met with Makia's family and ensured them that the detectives would do everything possible to determine who was responsible," Sheriff John Rutherford said.
Bowers closed the case with confessions from Southern and Pridgen.
"She was like a bright star," Bowers said. "She was outgoing and personable. She was good to everyone. She wasn't self-centered at all. It was all about other people. So to see a star like that put out, it was just a terrible, terrible crime."
There were a number of other yearly awards presented at the ceremony.
Russell Rhoden was named Corrections Officer of the Year, Caroline Layne was named Civilian Employee of the Year, Jason Beckham earned Reserve Officer of the Year, Sgt. Nick Burgos was named Police Supervisor of the Year and Corrections Sgt. Terrilee Terrill was named Corrections Supervisor of the Year.
Patrol Officer Nathaniel Tomlin received the Six Pillars of Character Employee of the Year award, and Ron Autrey received the Citizen of the Year award.