It was an honor to stand on the line with K9 handlers from all over the state, showing our respect for the families and fellow officers of the 4 Oakland Police Officers gunned down while doing their job in a thankless city. I have been to way too many funerals lately for Officers killed in the line of duty.
Emotional tributes honor fallen Oakland officers
By JULIANA BARBASSA and TERRY COLLINS Associated Press Writers
Posted: 03/27/2009 07:16:29 AM PDT
Updated: 03/27/2009 06:02:52 PM PDT
OAKLAND, Calif.—The city virtually halted Friday for the funeral of four slain police officers, with a populace still in shock jamming a large sports arena, spilling into an overflow stadium and filling the streets to pay their last respects.
The funerals for Mark Dunakin, John Hege, Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai, who authorities say were gunned down March 21 by a parolee during a traffic stop and a later shootout, shut down major freeways into and out of Oakland for much of the day as their long processions made their way to and from the Oracle Arena.
The officers' violent deaths marked the deadliest incident for law enforcement in California in nearly four decades and the deadliest nationwide since Sept. 11, 2001. Underscoring the magnitude of the tragedy, a somber pageant of uniformed officers from every type of agency—police departments, sheriffs' offices, highway patrols from across the country and Canada—overwhelmed the arena.
The entire 815-member Oakland Police Department, wearing dress white caps and gloves and black mourning bands on their badges, filled the front rows, saluting their fallen brethren as their flag-draped caskets were carried inside.
Loved ones, community members and dignitaries, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, state Attorney General Jerry Brown, made up the rest of the mourners in the arena, with a large overflow crowd filing into the adjacent Oakland
Coliseum to watch the service on jumbo screens—more than 20,000 attendees in all.
"These four men were and are heroes, but they weren't made of steel. They always knew the day may come," Feinstein said in her address to the crowd. "When the time came to make the ultimate sacrifice, their final hour was one of their finest."
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums also attended the service, but was asked not to speak by at least one family of the victims, his spokesman said. Paul Rose said he did not know which family made the request or the reason.
President Barack Obama and his first lady Michelle also sent condolences in a letter, read by Oakland police chaplain Jayson Landeza, saying, "their commitment to their fellow man will never be forgotten."
But one of the most affecting tributes came from Oakland Police Capt. Edward Tracey, commander of the SWAT team that cornered parolee Lovelle Mixon in an apartment, prompting the deadly shootout that left Sgt. Romans, Sgt. Sakai and the suspect dead. The violence began earlier in the day when Mixon allegedly shot Sgt. Dunakin and Officer Hege at a routine traffic stop.
"These were my men," Tracey said. "They died doing what they loved: riding in motorcycles, kicking in doors, serving in SWAT."
In a speech that brought tears to the crowd, he thanked the citizens who called the police on the suspect after the traffic stop and singled out Clarence Ellis, a 53-year-old former bus driver who stepped forward to perform CPR on Dunakin at the scene.
Tracey also addressed the members of the SWAT team present when Romans and Sakai were killed. "Console yourself knowing that they spent their last moments in your company," he said, also telling the officers not to let the deaths "hold you back."
The officers' coffins lined the front of the arena. The tall black motorcycle boots that Dunakin and Hege wore were placed by their caskets.
Individual eulogies from friends, colleagues and relatives of the officers sketched portraits of dedicated, hard-working family men.
Dunakin, 40, known as "Dunny," was the life of the party and loved looking good on his motorcycle. Hege, 41, volunteered to work overtime at the Coliseum during Raiders home games to see his favorite team. Romans, 43, a former Marine Corps drill sergeant, was an avid hunter and enjoyed cooking up his game. Sakai, 35, was a former Boy Scout who loved backpacking through untouched wilderness.
Private burials for the officers were held later in the day.
Outside the arena, a sea of police vehicles—bomb-squad trucks, motorcycles, Ford Crown Victorias and Dodge Charger cruisers—filled the parking lot.
New York City Police Lt. Tommy Ng, who attended the ceremony, said the tragedy brought back memories of Sept. 11. He said he was not surprised by the outpouring of support for his colleagues in Oakland.
"When one of us is hurt, all of us are hurt," Ng said before the service. "We're all brothers."
Minneapolis Police Sgt. Steve Blackwell and three other officers drove two squad cars from Minnesota over three days to attend Friday's service.
"It's a national tragedy," Blackwell said, "so it cuts pretty deep. We want to let the people of Oakland see that we care. I hope that this city finds strength from this tragedy to move ahead."
For those in the Oakland Police Department, the loss is almost unspeakable.
Gery Gilbert, 49, a traffic clerk at the Eastmont substation, where the slain officers worked, said she had a hard time just getting up Friday morning. She recalled how excited Hege was to be on motorcycle patrol when she last saw him two weeks ago, just one week after he joined the patrol.
Ronit Tulloch, a resident of Oakland, said she wanted to attend the funeral to show her gratitude for the work police officers do to protect citizens.
"You take it for granted, you forget what they're really there for," she said. "They just get up every day and do it. It's amazing."