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‘Heroes because of the way they lived’

Anniston event honors, remembers members of law enforcement

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The audience stands for a poignant moment at the fifth annual Alabama Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony Friday morning at Centennial Memorial Park in Anniston. 

The fifth annual Alabama Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony was held Friday morning at Anniston’s Centennial Memorial Park, just hours after seven more names had been inscribed on the park’s black marble wall of honor.

That wall contains the names of Alabama law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty and stands as the state’s official monument to their sacrifice.

Local and state dignitaries, active and retired officers from across the state and family members of the fallen crowded the park’s plaza area to pay their respects.

Ken Rollins, who is largely credited for the development of the park and the annual event, noted the several walls of honor, including those commemorating past wars, held the names of more than 140,000 who gave their lives in sacrifice for both state and nation.

“It means a lot to the families here today to see the names of their loved ones engraved on this wall,” Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge said. “We have to remember they aren’t heroes because they died. They are heroes because of the way they lived.”

Partridge introduced Gov. Kay Ivey, who emphasized Alabama’s appreciation of those who serve, have served and have died serving residents of the state.

“Please continue to lay your protecting hands on our men and women in blue,” Ivey prayed. “Guide them as they navigate difficult situations and shield them from harm.”

Ivey said the ceremony reaffirms the state’s commitment to “never forgetting the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Instead of those who say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ there are those who continue to demonize these good men and women,” Ivey said. “There are a few who actually support the ridiculous idea of defunding the police — almost as if they are in favor of a lawless society,” she said. “All I can say is: Thank God we live in Alabama.

“In our state, we recognize what these men and women go through to protect their families and our families on a daily basis,” Ivey added. “It is so often overlooked these individuals are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters that risk their lives each and every day when they put their badge on and go to work.”

Ivey noted the passage in March of the Sgt. Nick Risner Act, named after the 40-year-old Sheffield officer who died Oct. 2, 2021, one day after he was shot while pursuing a suspect.

The man charged in Risner’s death had been released from prison after serving three years of a 10-year sentence for manslaughter under Alabama’s “good time” law.

The bill prohibits any person convicted of a crime that caused the death of another person from benefiting from “good time,” which is called correctional incentive time in the law.

“Even after his passing, Sgt. Risner will continue to protect and to serve,” Ivey said.

The new law was also mentioned and praised by state Attorney General Steve Marshall, who noted his friendship with at least two of the officers whose names are inscribed on the memorial wall.

“Although every day I am here is important and special, today is personal,” Marshall said. “Two of the 11 names that have been inscribed since last year to be honored were friends, one of which who I spent many a late night out in the execution of a search warrant and early mornings preparing an operational plan to take bad guys off the streets.”

“The other I watched grow in law enforcement, went to his wedding, and to the funeral of his first child who died so tragically,” he continued.

Marshall called it an honor to be able to meet with families to express condolences and “say a word of thanks.”

“The Praying Hands we give to these families after a tragedy is not just a small token of symbolism,” Marshall said. “It is the reality that these family members are loved, we acknowledge their loss and we continue to pray for them moving forward knowing they have lost the one they love the most. While we have lost a colleague, they have lost the one they loved.”

Marshall noted that seven of the 11 law enforcement officers lost in the last year were lost to COVID-19.

“As we highlight those who sacrificed during this time of COVID, let us not forget that law enforcement paid the ultimate sacrifice as well,” he said. “We should commend them for showing up and facing that danger and not only the other dangers they face when they come to work.”

“I apologize if I’m a little passionate when I say those words,” Marshall continued. “I don’t know that we have said ‘Thank you’ enough for those who did the job every day to be able to keep our community safe and they did it willing to risk their own lives.”

An honor guard composed of local officers moved in front of the wall in single file bearing the parts of a law officers’ uniform.

One by one, using a standing rifle as a buttress, the members of the guard began affixing the pieces of the uniform — boots, vest, badge and hat.

Sheriff Matthew Wade circled the plaza playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and a benediction by Oxford Police Department Chaplain Dr. C.O. Grinstead ended the ceremony.