Three slain Pittsburgh policemen remembered at special Mass

It was a day to mourn.

But the Rev. Regis. M. Farmer, who presided over a Mass commemorating the anniversary of the deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009, said it was also a day to act.

He implored the dozens before him -- including police, family members of the slain officers, city officials and community members -- to take the somber occasion to reflect on how they would act to preserve the legacy of Eric G. Kelly, Stephen J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo Jr.

"They will not have died in vain if the neighborhoods in which we've lived in become safe and ... joyful and caring," he said, speaking to congregants at St. Maria Gorretti Church in Bloomfield. "We need to be more compassionate, more kind, more loving and more patient."

The anniversary reopens old wounds and can remind officers of the ever-present risks of their line of work. The three officers were responding to a domestic call at a home on Fairfield Street in Stanton Heights when Richard Poplawski ambushed them.

"Every officer, every day ... realizes that they're walking into harm's way and that comes with the job," said Mayor Bill Peduto, who shared his thoughts in front of a memorial statue dedicated to the men in front of the church.

Eric's mother, Frances Kelly, said the tragedy has forged a bond between the three families. They call each other when they feel the lingering effects of grief resurface -- on birthdays and during holidays, when the absence of the men becomes more palpable.

"We're family now," she said. "We all suffer so much ... we all suffer the same way."

Poplawski, 27, was sentenced to death. As with all capital cases, the case automatically is reviewed by the state's highest court. His case will be heard by the state Supreme Court Wednesday.

Ms. Kelly said she and other families are already bracing themselves for the emotional toll that re-living the tragic day in the courtroom will take.

"All of our stomachs are in knots," she said.

Paul Sciullo's mother, Sue, said in brief comments following the Mass that the Pittsburgh police bureau has become like a family to her, providing round-the-clock support.

"We lost a son but gained a family with the Pittsburgh police," she said.

Cmdr. Timothy O'Connor was transferred to the sprawling East End zone where the men were slain a month after the shooting and has since been promoted to oversee the zone, which hosted a large memorial gathering Friday morning.

By some measures, Zone 5 is the city's most dangerous. There have been three police officers shot in the line of duty and several more fired on since the three officers were killed in 2009.

"We have had our share of tragedy in the zone since Fairfield Street. I have been told we are cursed," he said. "However, I think it's a blessing because no matter what comes our way we deal with it and persevere."

Moriah Balingit:, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.

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