CO Scott Riner's second career was a calling to help others
Family, co-workers and friends remember Riner for his sense of humor, generosity and dedication to mentoring inmates
By Tyler Estep
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — Scott Riner was, in the truest Southern sense of the word, a character.
Invariably the funniest guy in the room, the type to engage in a decade-long prank war with a co-worker. The man with a pet catfish who spent his weekends driving a tractor around his Monticello farm wearing nothing but those infamous camo cargo shorts. Or his underpants.
He loved his family, even the would-be in-laws he so often hazed (lightly). And he loved his job, the dozen years he spent running work details — and mentoring inmates — out of the Gwinnett County correctional complex.
“Scott’s spirit is with us when we do what we love without regret or apology,” Riner’s cousin, Katherine Tillman, said during his Tuesday morning funeral.
A few hundred loved ones, county officials and law enforcement officers packed into the sanctuary of Lawrenceville’s North Metro Baptist Church for the service, which marked a week to the day since Riner, 59, was gunned down in the parking lot outside of work.
It also marked four days since the man accused of killing him, 22-year-old Yahya Abdulkadir, was taken into custody. A possible motive remains elusive.
“The irony of it is, the young man who took his life would be the very kind of young man that Scott would try to help,” Pastor Frank Cox said.
As Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” played over the loudspeakers, photos of Riner’s life — weddings, beach trips, children and grandchildren, a big ol’ bass on a hook and a bigger grin on his face — scrolled across the screen. Tillman, his older cousin and the family’s designated speaker for the day, spent half an hour remembering what made him, him.
He was a hoot, of course. And he had heart. He was a hero, and he was happy. And he lived in the here and now.
A DeKalb County native, Riner married his wife, Elana, 22 years ago. He became an “instant father” to her then young children, Taylor and Madison.
It was a role he took on with glee, Tillman said.
“A hundred years from now,” Riner once wrote on Facebook, “it won’t matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of truck I drove. But the world will be a better place because I was important in the lives of my two kids.”
Riner worked in sales and marketing before becoming a corrections officer, joking with friends that they’d always predicted he’d end up in jail one day. But it was a job he saw as a calling, a chance to help folks in tough situations.
He ran the complex’s version of a “scared straight” program and became like a father figure to more than one inmate, Tillman said. He took one fishing after they were released. Another got Riner’s work crew number tattooed on his arm — a reminder that someone believed in him.
“From now on, every time I raise my hand to give someone a high five, it’s gonna be in memory of Scott,” Tillman said, getting emotional. “Whose sense of humor, whose generous heart, whose heroism, whose contagious influence can continue to live in me and through me. Right here, right now.”
“I want to be like my cousin Scott.”
On cue, everyone in the pews before her clapped hands with a neighbor.
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