Sgt. Louis Lombari and Off. Travis Mathews of the Salt River Police Department attended the funeral of New York Police Department Det. Wenjian Liu, held in New York on January 4. Liu and NYPD Off. Rafael Ramos were slain by a gunman last month.
Lombari and Mathews, members of the SRPD Honor Guard, represented the SRPD and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community among the 12,000 officers from around the country who paid their respects to the fallen officers.
The SRPMIC officers heard that Jet Blue Airlines was willing to fly two officers from each police department in the United States to the funeral services of both New York officers; this meant two from Salt River were able to attend.
“I am the supervisor of the honor guard and have been with them for the past five years, and I also come from New York,” said Sgt. Lombari. “We have recently become more active within the honor guard. Usually our services are for ceremonial purposes, such as posting of the colors and funerals here locally, but it became important to us that we had to become more proficient at what we are doing and become more active in the honor guard.”
The funeral of an Arizona officer took place around that same time, and the honor guard made sure that another SRPD officer attended that service.
“We felt honored to be there [in New York], and it was also humbling to be there, not only for the officer but also to be able to represent the Community and the SRPD,” said Sgt. Lombari. “It was one of the most important things we have ever done.”
Mathews explained what he witnessed at the event. “We were two of 12,000 officers, who were not only from the NYPD but [police departments in] other Atlantic states, as well as officers from as far as Florida and California,” said Mathews. “In a procession that is usually done over here, officers follow the fallen officer to where he/she will be laid to rest. But, in New York, because of how huge it is, officers stand alongside the route that the family is going to take, which [extended for] several blocks. You were able to see officers standing alongside the road as far as the eye can see, and that was just amazing.”
Lombari and Mathews also witnessed traditional Chinese aspects of Det. Liu’s memorial service and how his family members were all there, even many who flew in from China. To respect the family’s culture and traditional Chinese funeral practices, people were allowed to give items to the fallen officer that he would want to have in his next life. The items were cut up, placed in bags and burned.
The SRPD officers said that it was impressive to see all the officers who came to support the fallen officer. To place the event into perspective, Lombari said, “[Imagine] rows of people lined up alongside the road from Two Waters to the Shell Station.”
“When you lose a life in your work family, it affects everyone, and the level of support is far more than what you can ever imagine,” said Mathews. “When we lost [Off. Jair Cabrera] here in the SRPD, officers came from all over to show their support. Being able to say thank you to them and then go to New York to give back that thanks and appreciation to another officer was a very humbling experience for me.”