Solemn service honors fallen officers
By PHILIP SAYBLACK
Friday, May 19, 2017
Those who have fallen in the line of duty should never be forgotten.
Those were Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs’ words paying tribute to fallen members of the Nash and Edgecombe counties law enforcement community Thursday at Rocky Mount’s annual Twin County Peace Officers Memorial Service at the Frederick E. Turnage Municipal Building. Combs’ tribute was read by Councilman W.B. Bullock, mayor pro tem, as Combs was out of town.
Dozens of people attended the solemn event on a nearly perfect late spring day, which was highlighted by a warm breeze and bright blue skies. They included officers, deputies and troopers as well as families of the fallen heroes.
The fallen officers’ families placed flowers on a wreath as their loved ones’ names were read aloud by Edgecombe County Lt. Wilson Muse and Nash County Lt. Miste Strickland. The only sounds that could be heard as the names were read were those of birds singing, flags waving in the breeze and cars driving past.
Former Sharpsburg Police Chief Willard Wayne Hathaway’s sisters, Faye Beddingfield and Monica Hathaway, were among those who placed flowers on a wreath in tribute to their brother, who died in the line of duty on July 18, 1997, responding to a domestic dispute call. Both women fought back tears as they remembered their brother and offered thanks to those who organize the annual ceremony.
“Our brother touched so many lives,” Beddingfield said. “It’s an honor that this service is held every year for him and all of the others. It’s bittersweet, but I appreciate that they continue to hold it. It’s very humbling.”
Hathaway agreed, calling the service cathartic.
“Almost 20 years have passed since he was killed, but it still seems like yesterday,” Hathaway said. “The pain never goes away. But coming here helps us heal.”
Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore, the event’s keynote speaker, called each officer a hero, thanking them and their families for each officer’s service.
“We honor and appreciate these local heroes who worked to preserve local residents’ safety,” Moore said. “We honor and thank them for their sacrifices.”
More than a dozen officers’ names were read this year, including Tarboro police officers Matt Ransom Gwatney and Plummer Ray Riggan, who were gunned down in 1917. The pair was searching a house believed to contain illegal whiskey when the fatal shooting happened.
The other officers honored this year included Edgecombe County deputies William Haywood Webb and Thomas Alan Cone; Nash County deputies Warren “Sneak” Lewis III and Russell E. Gilliam; N.C. Highway Patrol troopers Bobby Gene Demuth Jr. and Clyde B. Avent; Sharpsburg police Officer David Young; Enfield police Lt. Tonya Doreen Gillikin; N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles License and Theft Officer Timothy C. Barnes and Rocky Mount police Officer Alan C. Silver.
While the officers were honored this year, they are not the only Twin Counties law enforcement officers who have fallen in the line of duty. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, former Spring Hope Police Chief James Stallings was gunned down at the age of 35 on Sept. 21, 1910, while attempting to serve a warrant on a man for probation violation.
Princeville police Officer Richmond Powell died Aug. 21, 1923 as a result of stab wounds inflicted during a liquor raid. He was 50 years old.