The double doors of UAB Hospital opened into a corridor filled with people. Hundreds maybe. Too many people to count. They lined the walls, shoulder to shoulder. Heads bowed. Some wore badges. Others wore scrubs. Everyone was anvil silent.
The hero was passing by.
A hospital gurney entered the hallway. A police officer barked out the military-like call.
“LAW ENFORCEMENT! ATTENTION!”
Immediately, the corridor filled with the noises of clicking heels and the rustle of starched trousers as officers stood erect, chins up, shoulders back, chests out. There were duty belts galore. Body-mounted radios aplenty.
Male and female officers held themselves ramrod straight, unblinking.
The hospital bed wheeled forward at a dirge-like pace. Nurses steered. There was no chit-chat. No idle conversation. A real life hero was motionless beneath the sheets.
The uniforms had all come from the surrounding counties and rural backwaters within the quiltwork of central Alabama. Woodstock. Brent. Centerville. Chelsea.
They wore khakis, forest greens, and Class-B tactical blues. They represented different agencies from across the 22nd State, but the same brotherhood.
“PRESENT ARMS!” came the shout.
A throng of officers showed full salute.
The body of 32-year-old deputy Brad Johnson trundled down the hallway, toward the organ donor center. The corridor between the two medical buildings is roughly the distance of two city blocks. There were more than two blocks’ worth of onlookers.
They call this an “Honor Walk.” It is a ceremony of respect reserved for deceased saints, for exceptional people, for those who have chosen to be organ donors.
And, of course, for heroes.
People sniffed noses. Shoulders quivered with tearful sobs. Following behind the bed was a train of Brad’s mourners, which included Brad’s K9 partner, Bodie. A German shepherd.
“It was in his blood and in his heart to help people,” said a longtime friend, Brandon Jones. “He would do anything for anybody.”
And he proved it. Brad made a life of servitude. He started out as a firefighter before moving to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Department, where he worked as a K9 handler for seven years.
“Working in law enforcement isn’t just a job,” said one Alabama policeman. “It’s a calling. It’s a lifestyle. Brad made all law enforcement proud by being a hero.”
Brad Johnson. Father of two. Engaged to be married. He had a babyface and a familiar smile. He looked like a grown-up Boy Scout, or a former jayvee quarterback, or the kid who took your daughter to prom. He was your quintessential all-American 30-something. He liked fishing. Donuts. People. Scrolling TikTok. He was a dog guy.
Brad was well-known around town for bringing his K9 sidekick to local senior centers, nursing-home recreation halls Sunday schools and elementary classrooms to perform demonstrations. He was entertaining. Jovial. The kids ate him up with silverware.
“He was always there, any time I needed him,” said close friend Leslie Hubbard. “Always crackin’ jokes and making everyone laugh.”
The hero’s bed inched forward, past the saluting cops. Someone was weeping uncontrollably. The sounds of tearful explosions spread throughout the hallway. Throughout the hospital. Throughout the county.
Throughout the state.
A few nights ago Brad and his fellow deputy Christopher Poole were shot in the line of duty while pursuing a suspect. They were near the intersection of Highway 25 and Bulldog Bend Road when it happened. The shots-fired call was radioed in. The officers were rushed to UAB. Brad went downhill fast. He was removed from life support yesterday afternoon.
Any details about his killer aren’t worth discussing here because this isn’t about giving more attention to a kid with a gun. This is about the hero in a gurney.
And he was a hero. Make no mistake. Brad Johnson was one of the 44,421 law enforcement heroes who are assaulted with personal weapons each year. He will forever be numbered among the nameless men and women in uniforms, people you rarely notice, although you see them each day.
They are the lionhearted patrolmen and patrolwomen who roam the county routes, byways, sidestreets, schools, churches, and public spaces.
They are peace officers who dedicate their existence to catching bad guys, saving lives, bringing teenage runaways home, changing tires for elderly motorists, and occasionally delivering groceries to shut-ins. They are servants.
Or perhaps Bibb County Sheriff, Jody Wade, said it best.
“It’s been said that a coward dies a thousand deaths, but a hero dies but one. Brad Johnson was a hero.”
You bet your life he was.