Lt. Douglas M. Humble knew what the day was about.
Humble, commander of the Lawrence County headquarters of the Pennsylvania State Police, was one of thousands of law enforcement officers to descend Thursday on Pittsburgh. Each was there to pay tribute to three of the city’s policemen who were slain a week ago.
It’s a statement of solidarity, Humble said, and of support for the fallen heroes’ loved ones.
Still, it wasn’t until the end of the day that the real meaning struck him.
“We were standing in formation at a grave site with kids and loved ones crying,” Humble said. “The service was over and the sun setting, and you realized completely that these fine men will never return, and their families and friends will never see them again.
“What a loss for us all.”
Humble was part of a local contingent of officers who joined others from around the country to pay tribute to Stephen Mayhle, Paul Sciullo II and Eric Kelly, who were killed while responding to a domestic call April 4. Each was remembered as a hero, someone who found his calling in uniform and carrying out the motto: To protect and serve.
“When you go to these services — and I have gone to too many — it is nice to hear about their family lives and their police lives,” Humble said. “I believe it is important for people to see that we are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
“It was great to see so much support. People lined the streets and waved, saluted and cheered and waved flags.”
BADGES OF HONOR
Municipal officers who attended wore black bands around their badges as a sign of respect for their fallen comrades. State troopers, who do not wear badges, instead put mourning pins in the shape of a wreath on their left lapels. The bands or pins are worn until the last officer is buried. However, some officers continue to wear them up to a week after the funeral.
Thirteen New Castle police officers, including one chaplain, also attended. Already in a state of mourning, the officers were wearing the black bands in honor of Patrolman Terry Lee Book, who died April 2. Book retired in 1998 from the city police after 28 years of service.
In addition to the cruisers, the department also sent two motorcycle units and one unmarked vehicle, said Chief Thomas Sansone, who was unable to attend.
After speaking with his officers, Sansone said they expressed an atmosphere of “great camaraderie.”
“There were so many officers from other departments and from so far away that one couldn’t help be in awe of the whole event,” he said. “That’s the feeling you get anytime you attend a fallen officer’s funeral whether there are 10 people there or 10,000.
“That respect and feeling comes from being a police officer,” he added. “This event was more intense due to the fallen officers being from a department so close to us and also the fact that three officers lost their lives at the same time.”
For New Castle officers, it was the second such service for them less than a year after losing Sgt. Robert J. Lepore last summer in an off-duty car accident.
“Bobby Lepore is always in the back of our minds, so I think the thought of him enters into one’s thoughts every now and then,” Sansone said. “The circumstances of this tragic event were different and the thoughts of what happened to the three Pittsburgh officers were overwhelming to all who attended, as well as those who watched the service on TV.”
That sense of outpouring emotion wasn’t lost on Ellwood City officers Richard List and Matthew Liberatore and acting Mayor Tony Court, who accompanied the policemen to the memorial service at the Pedersen Event Center.
“It was quite an experience,” Court said. “It was very emotional and very impressive. The streets were lined with people giving ‘thumbs up’ as they went by.”
He expressed concern once the crowds clear and people return to their daily routines.
“That’s the sad part for me — life will go on for those families (without their loved ones).”
Court added the pomp and circumstance were especially moving to watch.
“There had to be 1,500 vehicles from all over the United States and Canada. I saw cruisers from Boston, Mass., New York and Canada,” he said. “I had a hard time comprehending something of this magnitude.”
This marked the fourth police funeral for List, who finished his nightshift just in time to leave at 7:15 a.m. for Pittsburgh.
“It was overwhelming,” he said yesterday. “There were officers from all over the state and country.”
List also traveled Wednesday to pay his respects to the officers as they lay in repose at the city building. There he met three officers from a small department in California.
“Before I left, I got calls from people who said they were proud of us and proud that we were going,” List said, adding that such tragedies often make police reflect on their careers. “You think about what if you were put in that same situation.”
He said traffic stops and domestic calls are the most unpredictable.
“You never know what you’re getting into when you pull someone over for a red light. ... You never know what you’re walking into when you walk through that door.”
BATTLE FOR JUSTICE
Also attending the memorial services were four officers from the Neshannock Township Police Department.
Philip S. Carlo, police superintendent, explained that tributes such as Thursday’s bring comfort to the officers’ families and those who work with them. He said it’s the least that could be done for someone who put his or her life on the line and loses that life.
“Officers go into battle for justice knowing that if they are killed in the line of duty, their fellow officers will always bring them home,” Carlo said.
Sciullo and Mayhle were on the Pittsburgh police force less than two years, while Kelly was a 14-year veteran.
Sciullo left a career in the private sector to become a policeman, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said on Thursday. Mayhle shared his birthday dinner with his family the night before he died. Kelly went to back up his fellow officers, the mayor said, even though his shift had just ended. Fatally wounded, he was able to call in details, likely saving the lives of other officers.
One doesn’t have to be in law enforcement to appreciate such dedication to duty, Carlo noted.
“These funerals not only involve officers in full-dress uniform and long lines of police units, but you will also see posters, signs of tribute, and the streets of the procession lined with citizens either holding U.S. flags, saluting or holding their hand over their heart,” he said. “This shows just how much it affects all of us.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)
Lt. Douglas M. Humble knew what the day was about.