ARLINGTON -- Jillian Michelle Smith grew up like many girls at Arlington Seguin High School. She made lots of friends, was a cheerleader and worked a summer at Hurricane Harbor.
But unlike most of her classmates, Smith had known since the sixth grade what she would do with her life: protect her hometown as a police officer.
Her drive to achieve that goal led her to study criminal justice in college, graduate with honors and join the Arlington Police Department in February.
And that same drive took her to the Arbrook Park apartments Tuesday night, where the 24-year-old rookie officer was fatally shot while trying to take a report on a domestic assault.
"Officer Smith was living her dream of being an Arlington police officer," Police Chief Theron Bowman said Wednesday outside police headquarters.
Police said they believe that Smith was making a report on an incident earlier in the day when Barnes Samuel Nettles, 38, returned to his ex-girlfriend's apartment and opened fire.
Nettles killed Smith and his ex-girlfriend Kimberly Deshay Carter, 29, before killing himself, police said. Initial reports said Smith moved to shield Carter's 11-year-old daughter from the bullets when the gunfire started. The girl escaped unharmed.
Smith's family was grieving and declined to comment Wednesday. Bowman said that he visited Smith's mother and father and that, while they were "absolutely emotionally devastated," they knew that their daughter died doing the job she always wanted.
"It's painful, it hurts, but they understand," Bowman said.
At the academy
Smith graduated Aug. 20 from the police academy as a member of Class No. 41. She completed field training Dec. 13, just over two weeks before she died.
She impressed her field training officers, who were among the department's toughest, Bowman said.
At the academy, Smith was a quiet, hard worker, earning the highest grade in a standards and education class, said officer Christine Matys, who was in Smith's class.
"She just rolled her eyes and said it was no big deal," Matys said. "But you could tell how much it all meant to her."
She took her job seriously, but Smith had a light side, said officer Brittani Winkler, another classmate. Smith joked that general order would be named after her because she painted her fingernails different colors.
"They were beautiful, but they were all painted differently," she said. "They have a general order for how long you can grow your nails, but not one for color."
Winkler added: "All the girls in the class were close. Sometimes you have to prove yourself because this is a man's job."
Education with an objective
Born in Arlington, Smith graduated from Seguin High School in 2005. She was a cheerleader all four years in high school.
Smith attended Mount Olive Baptist Church in Arlington.
Smith's relatives traced her interest in law enforcement back to her sixth-grade involvement in her school's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, Bowman said.
After high school, she attended Tarrant County College, graduating in 2007 with honors. Two years later, she graduated cum laude from the University of Texas at Arlington, where she studied criminal justice.
Alex del Carmen, chairman of UTA's department of criminology and criminal justice, recalled Smith as an idealist.
"She wanted to be a police officer so she could provide protection and serve the community where she lived," he said. "She believed very strongly that it was her role in life. It doesn't surprise me to learn how she died."
A further goal
Smith's longtime friend Iman Henderson said she considered a new goal recently: to become an FBI agent one day.
"It didn't seem to me like something Jill would do because she's such a girly-girl type, but she said that it was important to her to be an officer and in the FBI," Henderson said. "She was always wanting to do something that would help others."
Henderson said she spoke to Smith on Sunday. They discussed a recent domestic violence call and other incidents in her short time in the field.
"She was talking about her time out on the streets and how she loved it," she said. "But then she said how we never really knew how much violence goes on in Arlington because we don't see it."
Henderson cried and said she was proud to hear that her friend may have died protecting a child.
"It's unfortunate that it happened but knowing that she went out a hero, you look at it all different," she said.
Staff writers Eva-Marie Ayala, Susan Schrock and Chance Welch, and correspondent Robert Cadwallader contributed to this report.
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752