Photo courtesy: Tammie Bishop, Tampa police department
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Tampa, Florida - I woke up Saturday morning tired, as I had for the previous four days. Each day had been more emotional than the day before.
That's because each morning this week, before I even opened my eyes and focused, I reached for my Blackberry hoping for the news that Dontae Morris was caught. I even woke up in the middle of the night at times to check my phone.
I couldn't stop thinking about it. The magnitude of this search effort was one I had never seen before.
Saturday was different.
I knew before I went to bed Friday night that Morris was in custody. In fact, when I heard the news, I tore through the house so fast to get to the television, I nearly tripped and fell.
I couldn't wait to get to the TV and see if for myself.
Still, I had a fitful night's sleep.
I was anxious. I knew Saturday would be draining emotionally and very sad for the families of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. It broke my heart knowing that their wives, Sara and Kelly, were waking up this morning without the loves of their lives by their side.
I just couldn't imagine what they were going through.
I started off early on Saturday on my now-familiar daily commute on I-275 toward the Tampa Police Command Post off 50th Street, where I had spent hours this week with Police Chief Jane Castor, Mayor Pam Iorio, Sheriff David Gee and countless officers and deputies.
Hundreds of members of law enforcement had worked tirelessly in the hot July sun, all with one mission in mind: Get Dontae Morris in custody.
Some of the officers even slept at the post. They refused to go home.
As I watched Jane Castor on television Friday night, she had tears in her eyes when she announced the surrender of Morris.
It seemed all the officers were both thrilled and relieved to have this accused cop-killer behind bars before the impending funeral. It was almost as if they were saying to their fallen friends, "We're going to get him before we say our final goodbyes to you. You deserve that much and more."
They made good on that promise.
But, again, today was different. I wasn't going to the Command Post.
As I drove to the funeral, the rain began to fall. Another sullen and somber day, fitting for the mood--saying goodbye to two men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the careers they loved so much.
Idlewild Baptist Church was one of the biggest I had ever seen. Turns out, I was told, it has its own zip code.
Members of the media began the day speaking with those who knew the officers firsthand and worked side by side with them.
It was heartbreaking to watch one of the men who knew Officer Kocab lower his head, tears streaming from his eyes, the memories of his friend too much to bear. He walked away from the microphone, unable to speak.
I choked up inside, seeing this brave man talk about someone he respected so very much, and the emptiness he feels after this horrible tragedy.
When I saw the riderless horses outside the church, standing there so regal and symbolic, my first tears began to fall. It was a symbol so bold and so telling--an image of bravery for two men who gave their own lives to protect the city they loved so much.
Selected members of the media were escorted into the church.
I felt honored to be a part of that group. I walked inside to a cavernous auditorium with three floors and a sea of blue and brown uniforms, with an enormous American flag hanging before them.
As I sat in the balcony, I peered over the edge, seeing all the friends, family and colleagues of these men.
It was a beautiful and impressive sight.
I watched the large movie screens inside the church flash image after image of the officers in their everyday life.
They were smiling, laughing, loving life, making funny faces and celebrating holidays.
Officer Kocab was seen grinning with his hand planted firmly on his wife's growing belly. Officer Curtis laughed as he pretended to ride his little boys' tricycle.
These were clearly family men, men with plans, men with hopes and dreams for their lives.
They are now gone after the cowardly and senseless act of a man with what police call no regard for human life.
Officer Curtis' wife came inside with their four little boys, tiny and curious, walking up the aisle toward one of the infamous caskets draped in an American flag.
Officer Kocab's wife, clutching her belly, walked down an adjacent aisle, she too, sadly, on her way to her husband's casket.
These are brave women I am seeing. I am touched by their strength.
Throughout the service, fellow officers spoke to the audience, sharing funny stories, and many times tears when talking about family.
Their pastors shared inspirational stories of faith and joy in celebrating two lives that were not lost in vain, but rather given freely in a career that was so much more than a job.
"Police work is a calling," Jane Castor said. "People wonder why we do it, but we can't imagine doing anything else."
She is right.
These are special men, each one called "a true cop" inside and out.
It makes my heart swell with pride knowing that there are people out there willing to lay down their lives for a loyalty that I've probably never known, to the extent that they did.
As the service ended and we walked downstairs, I was suddenly immersed in a sea of law enforcement. Everywhere I looked, men and women stood side by side. It is truly an awesome sight.
I made my way through the crowd back to the risers where our media coverage was continuing. My mind was full, my heart was breaking and my eyes were wet.
The final goodbyes were about to begin.
A 21-gun salute was given for both men, the shots ringing out in the humid afternoon air. It is a jolting, yet strangely comforting sound.
The flags were also presented to the officers' wives, which always moves me as I see the expression on their faces when they receive the tangible form of bravery their husbands bestowed on this community.
The missing man formation is also an incredibly moving moment. Every time I cover a law enforcement memorial, I am always brought to tears seeing that lone aircraft bank to the side, standing out and flying away, forever gone.
It is so symbolic, and I couldn't hold back my emotions. My heart just sank.
And, lastly, the releasing of the doves and the final roll call. The final roll call to me is the most moving.
A radio call is placed to both officers, and with a scratchy transmission, the dispatcher is heard asking them to respond. Somewhere in your heart you are hoping, praying even, that a voice somewhere will speak.
At the end, the dispatcher says, "Officer David Curtis, Officer Jeffrey Kocab may God have mercy on your souls."
It is so final to me, so jarring. The tears begin to fall hard.
These men will never answer again. They will never call dispatch for back-up. They will never walk into their homes again to see their wives' smiles or their children's engulfing hugs.
They are gone.
Officer Curtis, Officer Kocab, I never knew you, but I will never forget you.
I never spoke to you in person, but I speak your name and remember you fondly.
I never shook your hands, but I will feel your service to this community always.
Thank you for giving your lives and following your passion.
May God bless you and have mercy on your souls.