In front of more than 3,000 law-enforcement officers who came from far away and nearby, many of whom wept, slain Lower Burrell police officer Derek Kotecki was remembered today as a man as dedicated to his job as he was to his family.
At his funeral inside Mount Saint Peter Church in New Kensington, family and friends told of the man they knew. Officer Kotecki, 40, was an 18-year veteran of the Lower Burrell force and a K-9 handler, He was shot and killed Oct. 12 trying to arrest a fugitive outside a Dairy Queen in Lower Burrell.
"Derek was the guy that you wanted there backing you up," Lower Burrell officer Tom Babinsack said.
Whenever he showed up at a crime scene, officers could feel that someone had their backs.
"He had an aura about him that made you feel secure," Officer Babinsack said.
At the same time, friends said, he was a man who took time daily to call his wife from work.
Before the funeral today, Officer Kotecki was as much a symbol as he was an officer, a friend, a father.
Officers from departments across the country came to support a fallen comrade, one they said is among a brotherhood that transcends jurisdiction and badge.
Officers lined the church steps, waiting for the arrival of the officer's casket. A horse-drawn carriage carried Officer Kotecki's body to the church for the 11 a.m. service, a procession of more law enforcement officers in tow.
The procession wended through the areas where Officer Kotecki used to patrol, ending at the church.
A choir sang outside the church doors and along the sidewalk. Pittsburgh motorcycle officers roared down the street.
K-9 officers from many departments lined up as 50 dogs barked and whimpered under the distant sound of bagpipes. Officer Kotecki's police dog, Odin, was not among them.
Firefighters raised their ladders in ceremonial crossed aerials.
Among those gathered at the church to pay their respects are Gov. Tom Corbett, U.S. Attorney David Hickton, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck and members of the Ocean City, Md. Police, where Officer Kotecki worked for a summer in 1992.
The service ended just before 1 p.m. with bagpipers playing a farewell salute as mourners prepared to transport Officer Kotecki's body to Greenwood Memorial Park.
After the service, officers headed through New Kensington and Lower Burrell to the memorial park, lights twirling and sirens blaring -- not standard protocol for a police funeral procession.
But that's what Officer Kotecki wanted. En route to a memorial two years ago for three slain Pittsburgh police officers, he made his friend and fellow Lower Burrell Officer Babinsack promise that "If something ever happens to me, I want everyone to know that I was here. I want the fire trucks and ambulance lights and sirens blazing," Officer Babinsack said. "He wanted a parade, and that's what he's going to get."
Sadie Gurman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1878.