Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton (left) and F.O.P Lodge No. 2 President Ron Leek (right) present Etowah County Law Enforcement Memorial board member Paulette Chandler (center) with awards for her service.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
As May represents a month to reflect on law enforcement across the country, with the nation recognizing National Peace Officers Memorial Day, Etowah County celebrates those courageous men and women closer to home.
Current and former officers joined friends, family and public officials for the Etowah County Law Enforcement Memorial’s commemorative event on Saturday, May 15, to demonstrate an appreciation for those who dedicate themselves to the safety and betterment of others, while remembering those beloved individuals who sacrificed their lives performing their duty.
“I am honored and privileged to stand before you today to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton. “All gave some and some gave all. Those some are true local heroes that sacrificed everything for our liberty and safety.”
A reception at The Venue at Coosa Landing commenced the event, which was hosted by the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office. Following the reception, a grand motorcade led a processional to the Etowah County Courthouse, where guests gathered at the site of the Etowah County Law Enforcement Memorial. Speakers stood alongside the granite star-shaped monument, emphasizing the importance of the evening.
Among those contributors to the ceremony were ECLEM board member and Etowah County reserve deputy sheriff Adam D. Green, Glencoe Fire Chief and Etowah County reserve deputy sheriff Richard Johnson, Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton, Carman McKiven, Gadsden and Etowah’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 2 President and Gadsden Police Department’s Ron Leek, ECLEM board member Dee Regan and Etowah County district judge Joe Nabors. The ceremony also featured singing by Sylvia Coleman, bagpipes by Gadsden Police Department’s Wayne Hammond, the traditional laying of a wreath and a 21-gun salute.
“This service truly is for those that are surviving,” said Horton. “[It’s for] those blood relatives of these fallen heroes and those brothers in blue and brown that continue to serve the great people of this county, who continue to stand in the gap between good and evil. We have a missing piece in our heart, but we can find peace knowing that one day, we too shall see them again. But until that time, never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice. What really matters is those who have made the ultimate sacrifice…that is what today is about.”
The Etowah County Law Enforcement Memorial manifested from the vision of Jimmie Entrekin and Donna McCurley, the uncle and wife of two officers involved in a fateful event just one year prior to the monument’s official unveiling in 1998. On October 10, 1997, members of the Etowah County Drug Task Force and Rainbow City Police were ambushed while serving a search warrant at a home in Rainbow City. The suspect opened fire on the officers, resulting in the death of Captain Chris McCurley, commander of the drug task force. Officer Gary Entrekin suffered severe injuries, alongside Reserve Deputy Rick Correll and narcotics agent Khris Yancey who were also wounded.
During the reception, Horton and Leek recognized an individual who they both consider an ally to law enforcement, someone whose selflessness and dedication to her county remains resolute from year to year. Paulette Entrekin Chandler’s respect and appreciation for law enforcement span lifelong. Her personal connections to the profession manifest in a lineage of individuals committed to serving their community, from her great grandfather who acted as chief of police for Alabama City to her brothers, nephews and nieces all in law enforcement. Her nephew Gary Entrekin, who was wounded during the shootout in Rainbow City, recently passed away in March.
“It’s important to bring all the law enforcement officers together as one and honoring those who have passed on, even the ones not on the memorial,” said Chandler, discussing the event. “Just seeing them all united together [is moving]. I just like to keep their memory alive – not just for my family, but for all the families [whose relatives are in law enforcement].”
Chandler is a member of the Law Enforcement Memorial Board, which was founded in 1999, and the memorial’s committee, which organized the event. While the board’s collections originally funded the monument’s establishment, the board now assists in supporting current law enforcement officers and their families each year.
On the second Saturday in October, the board hosts a roadblock as an annual fundraiser with the sole purpose of helping those who help others. Proceeds from the roadblock coincide with other donations the board receives throughout the year and generate a fund for law enforcement officers who need assistance. The board aids officers who are out of work due to injury or illness, extending generosity in numerous ways, from paying bills to purchasing groceries to ensure that families remain afloat during difficult times.
“It’s not me who should be honored,” said Chandler. “One person cannot stand out for that honor, it has to be all of us. I have people who jump in there and help and do not get recognized. There are so many people who deserve this [award] more than I do. I do it (help with the board) because I love them, and I’d do anything for them.”
The Law Enforcement Memorial ceremony personifies the collective efforts of local women and men who serve their community tirelessly, with diligence and determination, committing themselves to a greater purpose than themselves. Through remembering those who gave their lives for the protection of others and those who dawn a uniform each day, the community treasures the sacrifices of the past and the contributions of today that build the foundation for tomorrow.
“There are so many people to thank for this being a success,” said Chandler. “When you hear the names being called and the music…I can’t describe it. If you don’t shed a tear when they call those names…it’s just very powerful.”
The following names and dates appear on the memorial: D.J. Kinney, Gadsden Police Department, 11/12/1888, J.N. Holsonback, United States Marshal, 1/11/1902, Pink Jenkins, Attalla Police Department, 9/26/1903, Elbert R. Abernathy, Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, 08/18/1906, Ernest W. Birt, Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, 2/14/1911, William A. Patterson, Alabama City Police Department, 1/1/1912, Henry Ingram, Attalla Police Department, 11/2/1924, Henry “Newt” Wilson, Piedmont Constable, 11/23/1926, John W. O’Bryen, Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, 9/1/1929, John Oscar Johnson, Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, 11/20/1931, Charles Cook, Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, 8/1/1942, Charles Gordon Cox, Gadsden Police Department, 11/17/1942, Arvil O. Hudson, Alabama State Trooper, 5/12/1952, Grover C. “Ned” Pearce, Attalla Police Department, 4/12/1955, Richard Perkins, Gadsden Police Department, 6/4/1958, Ormand Franklin Watkins, Alabama State Trooper, 4/11/1971, C. L. Starling, Attalla Police Department, 2/22/1975, Jimmy Ray McKiven, Gadsden Police Department, 9/16/1983, Peter Christopher McCurley, Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, 10/10/1997 and John Scott Starratt, Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1/31/2001.