Police officers, firefighters serve as substitutes so teachers can attend colleague’s funeral

GREENWOOD, Ark. -- Police officers and firefighters in one Arkansas town lent a helping hand to the school district on Wednesday. They served as substitute teachers at the middle school so staff members could attend a co-worker's funeral.

“Ms. Nelms was a supporter of the fire and police department,” Fire Chief Stewart Bryan said. “She`s been a supporter of us for many years.  Now that the school`s in need, we wanted to help the school out. We wanted to make sure all the teachers were available to attend the funeral.”

A wreath holding a name tag and purple ribbon sits outside the door of the classroom where Jennifer Nelms taught. The 32-year-old was a paraprofessional for 5th graders at East Hills Middle School. Nelms worked in the same classroom as Karen Benjamin.

“She just I think took whatever she was thrown and just spun it positively,” Benjamin said.

She said Nelms wasn’t feeling well on Friday and left school early.

“So she thought, ‘I'm gonna go home; I'm gonna sleep. I'm gonna clean my house and I'll see you Monday morning.’ That's what she said Friday when she left,” Benjamin said.

But Nelms died Saturday with complications associated with Lupus. Co-workers said she was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease about two years ago. People wore purple Wednesday in her honor.

“This community is just amazing,” Benjamin said. “Officer Dawson was in my room this morning while I was attending the funeral.”

Around 15 Greenwood police officers as well as the police and fire chiefs subbed for classes so teachers like Benjamin could go to Nelms' funeral.

“It's certainly an honor to be in the class that she taught in, and she was a great person, obviously loved by a lot of people and students, and she's gonna be greatly missed,” Police Chief William Dawson said.

East Hills Middle School's PTO also made all the police officers and staff members lunch Wednesday afternoon after they got back from the funeral services.

Nelms leaves behind a husband and two young sons.