For years, Rome has held a celebration in front of the Joint Law Enforcement Center on Fifth Avenue to remember local law enforcement personnel who have died in the line of duty.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of that ceremony this year — but those who made the ultimate sacrifice were remembered Saturday by several officers acting on their own.
Rome Police Department Sgt. Brandon Pledger came up with the idea to place flowers at the graves of officers who are buried here. He and Floyd County Police Department Capt. Ron Hunton also put flowers on the markers at the memorial to fallen officers in front of the law enforcement center.
No ceremonies, no bagpipes, no 21-gun salute — just a couple of officers taking it upon themselves to make sure the men and women who came before them were not forgotten.
Pledger and Hunton started out at Myrtle Hill Cemetery, armed with a map to help them find some of the graves. From Myrtle Hill, they went to East View Cemetery, Oaknoll Memorial Gardens and several other small church cemeteries.
The first officer known to have died in the line of duty was James Peter Mooney, who was bludgeoned to death in 1874 at a rail yard in the area of what is now referred to as the Cotton Block.
“His death is the only one that has never been solved,” Pledger said.
The most recent was Kristen Hearne, who was employed with the Polk County Police Department when she was shot to death during an investigation on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.
Hearne had previously worked for the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office. The agency recently named a new training center on the Floyd County Jail grounds in her honor. A flower was placed Saturday on her grave in Cedartown as well.
The first grave Pledger and Hunton found at Myrtle Hill belonged to Rome police officer Robert l. Kimsey Sr., who died Sept. 3, 1930.
Pledger’s research indicated he was pushed off the 12th Street Bridge over Silver Creek by an inmate who tried to escape from a work detail.
“They got into a fight on the bridge and he was pushed over it,” Pledger said.
It took a while to locate the next grave, belonging to Joe Johnson, a Rome police officer who died Oct. 24, 1921. It was Pledger’s wife, Misty, who found the weathered tombstone.
Pledger said Johnson got into a gunfight in the area now known as the River Arts District.
“He was chasing a known moonshiner from a hardware store,” Pledger said. “They exchanged gunfire and he actually killed the suspect, but he died three or four days later in the hospital.”
FCPD Sgt. Chris Fincher said the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police hopes to make the pilgrimage to the grave sites a regular part of the memorial observance in the future.
Five graves were located at Oaknoll Memorial Gardens, four fallen officers are buried in East View Cemetery, and the others are scattered in smaller cemeteries across the area.
Pledger and Hunton made sure that even in the midst of a pandemic, 21 local heroes were remembered to close out Law Enforcement Memorial Week.