FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ga. - On her third birthday, a little girl is paying tribute to her late father, who was killed in the line of duty.
Franklin County Deputy Sheriff Cruz Thomas lost his life on May 21, 2014 while attempting to catch a traffic violator. He was killed when his vehicle crashed on Interstate 85.
Deputy Thomas, son of Franklin County Sheriff Stevie Thomas, left behind an 8-month-old daughter, Taliya, who turned 3-years-old on Tuesday.
Georgia-based photographer Mary Lee shared touching photos with FOX 5 she captured of Taliya praying for her father, as well as all of the officers who serve and protect our nation. In the photos, Taliya is wearing her dad's uniform and hat.
"She carries his badge," Lee told FOX 5.
Lee said during the photo session a yellow butterfly flew around Taliya and the insect followed the girl at several locations.
“She said ‘that’s my daddy sending me butterfly kisses from heaven for my birthday,’” Lee recalled. “She is such a smart little girl.”
Lee said every year since her father has been gone, Taliya sends balloons to heaven on her birthday.
"Her smile will light up any room," Lee said. "To be so young, she understands her daddy is in heaven and she knows he watches over her."
Last weekend, Taliya’s family celebrated her birthday with an “Under the Sea” mermaid-themed party. This weekend, they will continue honoring Thomas’ memory at the third annual Cruz Thomas Memorial Ride.
The memorial ride is taking place on Saturday at 11 a.m. Proceeds will go toward The Cruz Thomas Scholarship and Shriners Hospitals for Children in Atlanta. Registration starts at 11 a.m. and the ride will kick off on Highway 17 in Canon.
Photos courtesy of Mary Lee Photography