- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - The last thing anyone wants to see is the name of local officers added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. - unless it is to honor those who have been omitted in the past.

Natalie Barton, Etowah County Sheriff’s Office director of communications, learned a few months ago that two sheriff’s deputies have been approved for inclusion to the memorial.

The names of Deputy Sheriff Elbert Robert Abernathy, end of watch, Aug. 18, 1906, and Deputy Sheriff John Wesley O’Bryen, end of watch, Sept. 1, 1929, will be formally dedicated May 13 at the 29th annual Candlelight Vigil during National Police Week.

Representatives from the ECSO normally participate in Police Week events, and Barton said she’s eager to get in touch with members of these two officers’ families.

“We don’t know if family members will be able to attend,” she said.

O’Bryen’s name is included on the Etowah County Law Enforcement Memorial, which on the east side of the courthouse, but Abernathy’s is not.

Rainbow City Mayor Terry John Calhoun recalls hearing his father and his uncles talk about the shooting of O’Bryen, his great-uncle. He’d heard - and read in a 2009 account in a column published in The Gadsden Times - about O’Bryen being called out of church and shot to death in over an encounter with moonshiners.

Calhoun had not heard about the plan to add O’Bryen’s name to the national memorial. He said it is a fitting honor for the fallen officer.

O’Bryen, 43, was shot following a prohibition raid, The Gadsden Times reported on Sept. 2, 1929. He was involved in a raid at a home in the Hales School House community 12 miles south of Gadsden on a Sunday morning, Sept. 1, 1929, where a gallon of whiskey was found hidden in a truck.

One of the residents of that home saw O’Bryen walking out of church about 9 p.m. and confronted him, pistol in hand.

Members of the congregation heard the man say, “John, you did not treat me right this morning, stick ‘em up.” The two men walked to the side of the building, according to the newspaper account, and words were exchanged. O’Bryen went for his gun, it was reported, but was shot before he could get it out of the scabbard.

He was shot five times; the last two shots came as O’Bryen lay on the ground.

Little information has been found regarding Abernathy, other than a report from an out-of-state newspaper identifying him as a deputy sheriff from Littleton who was shot by a handcuffed prisoner and died shortly afterward.

Abernathy is buried in Old Providence Cemetery in Forney, Cherokee County, where his wife, Emma, was buried when she died in 1894 at age 24.

According to press reports at the time, Abernathy went to a house in the Littleton community to raid a gambling operation. There were four men there, and as he was trying to handcuff one man, he pulled a gun and fired on the deputy. He died a short time later.

Barton hopes to hear from anyone with more information about the two deputies who died in service to their county so long ago.

Anyone with information or family ties to the deputies is asked to contact Barton at the sheriff’s office, at 256-546-2825.

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Information from: The Gadsden Times, https://www.gadsdentimes.com

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