White-gloved officers wiped tears from their eyes as they stood at solemn attention, saluting the horse-drawn caisson carrying Joe Parise’s remains.
It all felt so painfully familiar: An American flag-draped casket. Blue-tipped white roses. Bagpipes wailing “Amazing Grace.”
For the second time in just two months, hundreds of corrections officers gathered Tuesday to lay their brother to rest.
Parise, 37, died last week after rushing to rescue a fellow officer who was being attacked by an inmate at Oak Park Heights maximum-security prison. He returned to his post, collapsed and died a short time later.
Fellow union members pronounced his actions heroic. “Joe never hesitated to put himself in harm’s way,” James Carter, a former colleague and one of Parise’s closest friends, told mourners jammed into Fort Snelling Memorial Chapel for the funeral. “No matter what his feelings may have been about you, Joe would do anything to make sure everyone went home safely.”
While in the Navy, he refused to abandon ship alongside fellow officers when a fire broke out onboard. Instead, Parise ran toward the flames and extinguished them so no one got hurt, said the Rev. Martin Shanahan.
“He was a hero,” Shanahan said, praising Parise’s actions from one career to the next.
Years later as a rookie corrections officer, he helped colleagues separate three inmates in the midst of a violent fight.
“A lot of rookies might freeze … but Joe never hesitated, not for an instant,” said Don Webber, a fellow officer at Oak Park Heights. “He ran right into the mace and the knuckles and the spit, snot and blood — right where I needed him.”
But loved ones admit his greatest traits were his infectious laugh, radiant smile and relentless humor.
To his friends, Parise was affectionately known as the “Italian Stallion.”
Eulogies ribbed him for his excessive hair products and practical jokes.
Parise delighted in changing the background of officers’ computer monitors, smearing ink on the grips of their pens and poking holes near the rims of their Styrofoam cups to make them spill.
“He would find the humor in every situation, which made working in prison bearable,” Carter said. “Joe always reminded us not to take life too seriously.”
Gov. Mark Dayton ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in his honor and attended services alongside Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach and Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy.
A single portrait of a uniformed Parise overlooked a table with a folded flag and box of ashes.
His widow, Andrea Parise, quietly cried in the front row of the stone chapel where the couple wed. She is pregnant with their second child.
Dozens of strangers lined the 30-mile procession route from Fort Snelling to Fairview Cemetery in Stillwater, where the flashing motorcade was periodically greeted by saluting emergency responders on bridge overpasses.
For those lining the route, it was a moment to pay tribute to an officer in their community and to provide emotional support to a grieving family.
Children stood on front porches waving mini American flags while adults covered their hearts, hat in hand.
At the cemetery, an honor guard — like the one Parise so proudly joined at Oak Park Heights — performed a three-volley salute to mark the end of his watch.
An estimated 850 officers paid their respects on the grounds for one last time.
The display was reminiscent of Joseph Gomm’s funeral just two months ago.
An inmate is accused of fatally beating and stabbing Gomm, 45, in July at Stillwater prison.
Recent deaths follow a string of violent assaults on corrections staff that has led to renewed calls for increased staffing and security inside Minnesota’s prisons.
Last year, the DOC said it requested state funding for 187 additional corrections officer positions to bolster security around the state. But the Legislature approved only 15 of those positions, said spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald.
Many believe that will change in the upcoming legislative session.
Rep. Brian Johnson, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, said both parties are committed to making sure officers are safe on the job.
“The recent increase in violence against corrections officers is deeply troubling,” said Johnson, R-Cambridge. “We intend to work closely with the Department of Corrections to prevent future tragedies and ensure the safety of our state’s corrections officers.”
The back-to-back losses weigh heavily on local corrections personnel who must return to work every day, said Jeff Beahen, Rogers police chief and president of the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association.
“These are an outstanding group of officers, who are resilient and remain positive in spite of the impact this loss has had on all of them,” Beahen said.
Carter ended his eulogy by telling the mourners to hold their loved ones tight and take nothing for granted before saying his final farewell.
“As your fellow sailors would say: Fair winds and following seas,” he said, choking up. “Rest easy brother, we’ve got the watch from here.”