On they came, wave upon wave of black-and-white squads, the SUVs painted with badges, motorcycles driven by grim-faced officers, all with lights flashing, solemnly moving down Dodd Road, through Mendota Heights and on to the sacred burial ground.
“Why are there so many people?” a little girl asked her father as they watched.
“They’re all his friends,” he replied.
Thousands of uniformed officers joined damp-faced family members, friends and neighbors Wednesday to pay their final respects to police officer Scott Patrick, a veteran Mendota Heights patrolman slain one week before during a seemingly routine traffic stop only blocks from the church where he was bid an emotional farewell.
An estimated 5,000 people attended the service, most of them watching on video monitors in a gym, cafeteria and two large tents erected outside St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church. Of those, 4,000 — a thousand more than anticipated — were law enforcement officers from Minnesota and the region, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Doug Neville. Many had to sit or stand on a nearby hill.
“Our overflow areas ended up having overflow areas,” Neville said.
Church seating in the 350-seat brick sanctuary was reserved for family, friends, Mendota Heights city employees and dignitaries. Among those attending were Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. John Kline and other federal, state and local officials.
Patrick, 47, was one of 11 boys who grew up in a blended family on St. Paul’s West Side. After graduating from Humboldt High School in 1985, he earned a degree at Alexandria Community College and got his first police job in Shakopee. He joined the Mendota Heights department in 1995.
During the 75-minute service, fellow officers Robert Lambert and John Larrive remembered their friend and partner as a humorous, humble and very human cop who took his job seriously, but rarely himself.
Lambert, at times choking up and fighting tears, said that he could just see Patrick taking in his funeral with “a smirk on his face, a twinkle in his eye” and saying, “Hey, not bad for a Humboldt grad, eh, cadet?”
As a cop on the street, Patrick was at his best talking with people and offering advice, Larrive said. His office manner, however, wasn’t quite so impressive, Larrive joked, referring to how Patrick hoarded legal pads and looked for ways to duck paperwork.
“Lord, please watch over Scott and do him a favor … point him in the direction of the best restaurant in heaven with half-price margaritas on Mondays,” Larrive said.
Lambert concluded: “I will miss my brother. Scott, I love you. We love you. Rest now. We will take your watch from here.”
Mike Brue, Patrick’s brother and best man at his wedding, remembered him as someone who realized many of his goals — his home renovations being one example — using his drive and common sense.
“Then, in an instant, he’s gone,” Brue said. “And we grieve deeply.”
Jolene Josephson said that when Patrick married her sister, she wondered if he knew what he was getting into. But, she said, she and her family “were the lucky ones. … If he had seen the respect he’d earned, he’d be amazed. Sadly, his retirement came way too early and without warning. Senseless.”
‘Flicker of light’
When Patrick’s wife, Michelle, arrived at the church Wednesday, she was greeted with a long embrace from Gail Bergeron, who had experienced the same heartbreak four years before when her husband, Joe Bergeron, a Maplewood police sergeant, was shot and killed while responding to a report of a carjacking.
Then, Michelle Patrick took hold of the hands of her daughters, Erin and Amy, and entered the church.
Minutes later, the service opened with Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” played on organ and drums, and included an Elvis Presley hit that was sung at the Patricks’ wedding — “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”
As mourners dabbed their eyes, the Rev. Cassie Nault, St. Stephen’s associate pastor, spoke of how Patrick had worked in a profession “often surrounded by darkness. He encountered it often, but he never lost that flicker of light.”
The only oblique reference made to Patrick’s alleged killer, Brian Fitch Sr., came in pastor John Snider’s intercessory prayer “for those whose hearts are twisted, whose ignorance has led them to harm … bring them also to your light.”
Fitch, a 39-year-old career criminal, is charged with first-degree murder in Patrick’s death. He remains at Regions Hospital after being shot numerous times by police during a shootout leading to his capture in St. Paul hours after Patrick died.
The last call
The 8-mile procession to the cemetery began about a half-hour after the funeral ended. More than 1,000 police vehicles started up Charlton Street, turned west on Butler Avenue, took a jog at Delaware Avenue and then headed south on Dodd Road.
Ashley Karlson, 26, was among those watching along Butler. Two weeks ago, she had called police about a trespasser in her yard. Patrick had responded and told her how to get an order for protection. Karlson’s house is only six blocks from where Patrick was shot.
“I wanted to pay my respects for his help. He was a very, very nice man,” she said.
Nearby, Rebecca Hovey, 22, held a handmade sign and balloons. She said that she hopes to become a police officer someday and work with a K-9 unit. “Officer Patrick put his life on the line every day … he shows one of the reasons why I want to join the police force myself,” she said.
Starting at 1:30 p.m., squad cars began rolling into Acacia Park Cemetery in Mendota Heights. As they entered, a bell tolled 272 times — once for each Minnesota law officer killed in the line of duty.
Chet Gould, 70, of Brooklyn Park, was among scores of Minnesota Patriot Guard riders who welcomed the officers with American flags.
“I feel it’s my duty,” he said. “I need to. I want to. It fills a void in my life, maybe.”
Slowly, the thousands of officers fell into formation and marched to the grave. They were followed by busfuls of mourners and more squad cars. Then came the honor guard and bagpipers marching to a single drumbeat, followed by the horse-drawn caisson and a riderless horse. The only sound came from the soft drumbeat and the horses’ hoofs on the pavement.
The grave site service was short but poignant. A prayer was read, then a last call sent over a Mendota Heights police car radio: “Calling Badge 2231. Calling Badge 2231. Officer Scott Patrick is out of service. End of watch, July 30, 2014. 10-7.”
Two State Patrol helicopters roared overhead. A bell tolled 22 times for each year Patrick served as a police officer.
And then finally, “Officers! Dismissed!”
Star Tribune staff writers Paul Walsh, Nicole Norfleet and Emma Nelson contributed to this report.