Mississippi officers gunned down: One a rookie cop fulfilling a dream, one named “Officer of the Year”

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(CNN) — Liquori Tate was a rookie cop known for his big smile and the joy he got from blaring his cruiser’s siren as he fulfilled a lifelong dream of being on the force.

Benjamin Deen was a self-described “country boy” who loved busting gangs and became the department’s police officer of the year after rescuing a family from a burning home.

Now, the officers are being hailed by colleagues from around the world for their service and sacrifice after being gunned down Saturday during a traffic stop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

As authorities build cases against four suspects accused in the killings, friends and family of the slain officers shared memories of two men who they said were proud to be police:

Liquori Tate: ‘He was doing what he wanted to do’

Mississippi police officer Liquori Tate

Mississippi police officer Liquori Tate

To you, his photo might seem like a snapshot of a 24-year-old policeman slain in the line of duty. But Ronald Tate sees much more.

“This was my baby,” he told CNN’s Poppy Harlow, “and that’s all I see.”

Liquori Tate was once a little boy who loved police cars. The flashing lights fascinated him. He scooted around in a motorized miniature cruiser.

For years he followed a path that took him through community college and into a career at auto parts stores. But one day, he told his father that he had a new dream: He wanted to be a policeman.

“He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul, and I knew he meant that,” Ronald Tate said.

That doesn’t mean Liquori Tate didn’t know he was putting his life in danger when he joined the force.

“He really knew the risk,” Ronald Tate said, “but I think my son just thought people … are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”

Liquori Tate graduated from the police academy last year and trumpeted the news on Facebook.

There were photos of him in a crisp new uniform.

Ronald Tate still saw his baby.

The two talked every week and texted every day.

“He was just wonderful,” Ronald Tate told CNN. “He was doing what he wanted to do.”

The notion “that all police are out to get people or they’re bad,” Ronald Tate said, simply isn’t true.

Liquori Tate was many things, Ronald Tate said. He was his sister’s protector — they were born just 11 months apart and were practically twins.

He was a man with many friends from many different backgrounds. He grew up in Germany for five years while his father was stationed there in the military.

“My son didn’t see color. … We didn’t have all this animosity between races, and my son didn’t see that. He didn’t have time for that. He was just mellow and laid back and didn’t want to get into that,” Ronald Tate said.

Liquori Tate, his father said, was so much more than the uniform he was so proud to wear. His family is still reeling and trying to come to grips with his death.

“This was my baby, who I was willing to allow to go into this type of dangerous work,” Ronald Tate said. “A guy who understood and loved everybody. Peaceful, passive, understanding. Wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

At a vigil on Monday, Tate’s fellow officers said his joy on the job was infectious.

Assistant Chief Frank Misenhelter said he was struck by Tate’s smile from the moment they first met.

“I’ve never seen anyone more happy to be a cop than him,” Officer Jason Jarvis said.

Tate would gleefully turn on his siren, he said, even during their academy training when they’d been instructed to keep quiet. And once he was on the force, officers often heard the familiar sound of Tate’s siren on the radio when he was calling in a stop. One day, Jarvis said he asked his fellow officer why he liked the siren so much.

“I just love the way it makes me feel,” Tate replied.

Benjamin Deen: ‘A damn good friend’

Mississippi police officer Benjamin Deen

Mississippi police officer Benjamin Deen

Deen, 34, was dedicated to cleaning up the streets, focusing much of his police work on fighting gangs in Hattiesburg.

“He loved to fight gangs,” Misenhelter said. “He loved to identify them and figure out their strategies. He did that feverishly, passionately.”

Misenhelter said he quickly bonded with Deen over discussions of gang symbols, signs and tattoos.

“He always had that smile on his face and that old country drawl. … And when he did something good, and he did a bunch of good things, he’d always find me out and say, ‘Chief, ain’t too bad for an old country boy.'”

For years, the man known to fellow officers as B.J. and “Deeno,” has loved being a K-9 handler, Capt. Peggy Sealy said.

With his dog, Tomi, at his side, they made numerous drug arrests.

Before joining the Hattiesburg Police as a recruit in 2009, Deen had also graduated from the state’s fire academy. It was training that came in handy in 2012, when Deen rescued a family from a burning house.

“I reckon that was the fireman in him. He had two sides, fireman and policeman,” Sealy said.

Deen was named Hattiesburg’s officer of the year after the heroic act, she said.

That year he also became a field training officer and “went out of his way to train young officers,” including Tate, Sealy said.

“He always brought training topics that anybody could relate to,” she said. “Senior officers, young officers, everybody could relate to him.”

In evaluations year after year, Sealy said, Deen’s supervisors praised his clear love of his job and his willingness to go the extra mile.

“Deen was proud to wear the badge,” she said. “He never dishonored it.”

Married with two young children, Deen was a great friend who “had a great love for his family,” said Ryan Moore, a reporter for CNN affiliate WDAM and the officer’s friend.

“B.J. Deen was a good officer, father, and husband,” Rob England, a Southern Mississippi Police Department employee, told the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi. “And a damn good friend.”

Investigators haven’t detailed exactly what they think happened before two Mississippi police officers were shot dead during a traffic stop.

But now they say even though four suspects have been charged in connection with the case, just one of them is accused of pulling the trigger.

Marvin Banks, 29, appeared in court on Monday and was charged with two counts of capital murder, along with counts of grand theft auto and being a felon in possession of a firearm, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesman Warren Strain said.

The shooting unfolded Saturday night after Officer Benjamin Deen, 34, stopped a vehicle for a speeding violation, then called for backup after he found probable cause to search the car, Strain said. Shots were fired at some point after Officer Liquori Tate, 24, arrived at the scene to help, he said.

Preliminary autopsy findings revealed that one officer was shot in the back, and the other was shot in the face, Strain said.

Investigators haven’t said what motive they believe Banks had for allegedly opening fire, or specified what role the other suspects played in the shooting. Tests have begun on boxes of evidence, but it could be weeks before the results come in, Strain said.

“There are theories, but we’ll wait on the forensics to come back,” Strain told reporters.

Marvin Banks’ half-brother, 26-year-old Curtis Banks, was charged with accessory after the fact of capital murder, Strain said.

Joanie Calloway, 22, was originally charged with two counts of capital murder, but her charges were reduced in court on Monday to accessory after the fact of capital murder, Strain said.

Cornelius Clark is charged with obstruction of justice.

None of the suspects entered pleas in court Monday. As deputies escorted him into a police station Sunday, Curtis Banks wailed and repeated “I didn’t do it.”