From his youth, Gregory E. Barney loved egg salad so much so friends and family called him, yes, “Egg Salad” — but they had another name for him, too.
G Money, they called him, because in addition to wanting to become police officer one day, Barney made it his business to purchase a 1986 red IROC, the sound of which you could hear around his New Jersey stomping grounds long before you ever saw him.
People laughed out loud, listening to these and other revelations about the Riverdale police major.
“He was a great guy,” said friend Bruce Still, an old comrade from New Jersey’s Lawnside Fire Department, where Barney once served as a volunteer.
Still was one of nearly 2,000, including members of area law enforcement agencies, who turned out under an ashen sky Saturday to remember the fallen police officer at Saint Philips AME Church in Atlanta.
The how and why of his death has been the talk of Atlanta since Feb. 11, when the 25-year police veteran was shot and killed during a raid he was not directly involved in, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He was one of several Riverdale police officers backing up the Clayton County Police Department narcotics unit’s service of a no-knock drug warrant.
According to information released by the GBI, an officer knocked on suspect Jerand Ross’ front door at the Villages on the River, an apartment complex in the 6600 block of Church Street. And instead of surrendering, the suspect allegedly ran out a back door, sparking a chase near an area Barney was supervising. Ross made it about 200 feet before encountering the police major and shooting him. Barney, who was not wearing a bulletproof vest, died during surgery at Southern Regional Medical Center and Ross has been charged with his murder.
Though the crowd had gathered to celebrate Barney’s short life — he would’ve celebrated his 51st birthday Thursday — their applause at the moment his widow, Lisa, rose to speak captured the intensifying sense of loss perhaps better than any other during the nearly two-hour service.
Flanked by their twin sons, Gregory and Robert, and her brother, Philip Flanigan, Lisa Barney offered her thanks for the show of support and love she had received since her husband was slain.
“It’s been overwhelming and amazing,” she said. “My emotions are all over the place.”
She said she felt at once angry, sad and happy, but more than anything proud of her husband.
“I’m sad he’s gone but if he had to go, this is exactly the way he would have done it,” she said.
Mourners started arriving to the packed service as early as 10 a.m., a full two hours before the celebration was scheduled to begin.
It was a good thing. Parking was hard hard to find on the church campus, where a prayer breakfast was also underway, forcing many to park as many as six blocks way.
“I’ve been here since 10 just looking for a parking space,” said East Point City Councilwoman Stephanie Gordon.
Gordon, a neighbor of the slain officer, said she last spoke to Barney in November when he offered her congratulations for her election win, but they saw each other regularly while dropping their kids off at school.
Barney’s twin boys and her son have been schoolmates since first grade, she said. They’re now tenth-graders.
The crowd swelled quickly, nearly filling the 2,500 capacity sanctuary.
Jamekia Douglas said she had never met Barney. She was there representing her husband, Robert Douglas, who was in New Orleans and couldn’t be there.
“My husband trained with him,” she said.
Shortly after 1 p.m., after nearly a half dozen had stood to remember Barney, after the laughter and shed tears, the Rev. William Watley delivered the eulogy.
He chose a familiar passage in the fifth chapter of Romans: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Watley said that if he were to take a poll of those gathered, all of them would likely have a list of loved ones for whom they’d be willing to die.
But there are some professions, some occupations and callings where you don’t get to chose. Once you commit yourself, he said, there is an explicit understanding you may have to sacrifice your life for those who you may not feel worthy, who are diametrically opposed to you.
God, Watley said, proved his love for us while we didn’t deserve it.
“He didn’t wait until we got cleaned up,” he said. “When we were at our worse, he saw something worthwhile in us and went to the cross so that now we can say we’ve been redeemed.”
Not everyone is able to rise to such a sacrifice, he said.
Maj. Barney, Watley said, didn’t die in vain any more than Jesus, who three days later got up from the grave.
“God raised him because he will not allow evil to have the last word,” Watley said.
He said he wasn’t there to make light of the pain his widow and others were feeling. Life for them will be different.
“Don’t feel any obligation to keep a stiff upper lip to console someone who doesn’t know where you sit,” he said, speaking to Barney’s widow and sons. “But you need to know that no matter how dark it gets, the eyes of the heavenly father are turned toward you and he will be with you. When you don’t know how you’re going to make it, the same God who died for you will watch over you and he will make a way somehow.”
Watley said he doesn’t know what God will say to Barney on the other side, but “I’d like to think it will be, ‘Servant, well done. The battle is over. The victory is won.’”