Connellsville police officer recognized 131 years after death
By Mark Hofmann
Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013, 6:42 p.m.
A Connellsville police officer killed in the line of duty is receiving national recognition 131 years after his death.
Officer McCray Robb was killed on May 25, 1882, while trying to help a fellow officer.
The Barrett Circus was in town that day. Police received a report of a group of men being disorderly. They were confronted by Officer Noble McCormick, who had a verbal exchange with one of the men, Jefferson Low.
According to reports, Low grabbed McCormick by the throat and threw him to the ground.
Robb responded. As he was trying to pull Jefferson Low off of McCormick, Low's brother, Bayard, drew his revolver and shot Robb twice in the chest.
According to newspaper accounts, the entire town was outraged.
Bayard Low fled, but was found later hiding in a house. As he was apprehended, a mob formed with the intent of lynching him as well as his brother. Borough officials decided to send the brothers on a train to Uniontown to be locked up for their own safety.
As the men were boarding the train, someone threw a stone at Bayard Low, causing a near-fatal injury.
Bayard Low was found guilty of murder in the first degree in September 1882. In his retrial in March 1883, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and avoided execution.
Robb, a Civil War veteran had only one surviving immediate family member — his mother.
A record number of people — records show as many as 3,000 — from the community attended the 33-year-old's funeral. Funeral expenses were paid by the city and voluntary 25-cent contributions of the citizens. The incident made headlines in newspapers in Somerset, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Kentucky.
Then, Robb was forgotten.
Late last year, Carolie Heyliger, the memorial programs research manager with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington , learned of McCray Robb's story.
The memorial is the nation's monument to law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. The memorial honors federal, state and local law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Heyliger said her office receives information about an officer killed in the line of duty before 1991 from a police department or some community historian. The organization conducts the research to prove that the officer was killed in the line of duty.
Heyliger said that in some cases, the organization may find other names of fallen officers while doing researching on another case. That is how the story of McCray Robb was discovered.
“I found several newspaper articles and found a copy of his burial records,” Heyliger said.
According to those records, Robb held the rank of private with the 110th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry, Company G, and served with the Union from April to June 1865.
Heyliger gathered as much information on Robb as she could and sent a packet to the Connellsville Police Department with the articles and information and included a data form to qualify Robb's name to be placed on the memorial wall.
“I was unaware of it,” Connellsville police Capt. Steven Shaffer said when he received the information on Robb in October. “It was fascinating and humbling to read it.”
Not only did Shaffer and officers in the department learn for the first time about the incident that claimed one of their own, Shaffer was surprised to learn of Robb's final resting place in Hill Grove Cemetery, Connellsville.
“His tombstone is very unassuming,” Shaffer said of the small, white stone with only Robb's name and his regiment and company etched on it and sitting in front of a tattered flag that he and many others have passed by for years, not knowing anything about the man buried below.
“But it's a beautiful location, very fitting for a fallen hero,” said Shaffer.
Shaffer used his own time to conduct research on Robb, finding that the most valuable information was in Connellsville City Hall. He was able to go through the fragile, handwritten minutes from the council meetings of 1882.
Shaffer was able to determine when Robb was hired.
It seems Robb was only a police officer with the city for three weeks before being killed.
Shaffer said it is not clear whether alcohol was a factor in Bayard Low shooting Robb, even though the brothers blamed whiskey for their actions when interviewed by a reporter.
Shaffer said there is no known photo of Robb and nobody knows exactly where the Barrett Circus would have set up in Connellsville. Neither the city's minutes nor any of the newspaper accounts gave a description of the location. The best guess is that the circus set up somewhere along the railroad.
Shaffer asked that anyone who might know where the circus may have been located in the 1880s in Connellsville contact him. Police would like to make the spot that Robb was killed a sacred place.
“We want to place a memorial stone there or next to his grave site,” Shaffer said. “But it will take some time.”
On Monday in Washington, Robb's name will join those of 320 other fallen officers during a candlelight vigil, which Heyliger said attracts nearly 20,000 people.
During the vigil, a smoky mist will appear over the crowd and a blue laser light will appear overhead, representing the Thin Blue Line, which represents law enforcement as the separation between the lawful and the lawless. Then the names of the 321 officers will be read in the two-hour ceremony.
Shaffer said even though he's disheartened that the Connellsville Police Department won't be represented at the vigil for Robb because of manpower issues and scheduled training, he plans to visit the 304-foot-long blue-gray marble walls and find one of Connellsville's own included with the names of more than 19,000 officers who have been killed in the line of duty throughout U.S. history, dating back to the first known death in 1791.
“We have a dangerous job and face difficulties and hazards every day, and it's something to know that officers faced similar dangers years ago while trying to enforce the law and protect the citizens,” Shaffer said. “It's very humbling to myself and the other officers.”
Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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