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A procession of honor and pain


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 1998

For three hours he hardly budged, despite the moisture on his brow.

"Our physical presence speaks louder than words," said Nance, the pastor of Grace Baptist Temple in Brandon. People pressed in near him, some holding umbrellas against the sun, others holding children cranky from the long wait.

Thousands lined up to watch the funeral procession slowly snake its way through downtown Tampa on Saturday afternoon, past law offices and the Hillsborough County School Board building, past looming barges in the channel district, past billboards and warehouses along Adamo Drive, past gas stations and car repair shops on 39th and 40th streets, and at last through the grassy stretches of Lake Avenue to its graveside destination.

First came the motorcycle police. Then the Tampa Police Department cruisers, their windows sealed tight against the 87-degree heat. Two hearses rode side by side, followed by stretch limousines, two white, two black, all protectively surrounded by a cavalcade of cruisers.

The crowds, in shorts and sun dresses, stood on car hoods, got up from their folding chairs and whisked off their caps and straw hats. Some saluted. Some clapped for the fallen detectives, others pressed hands to hearts. Many wiped tears from beneath sunglasses. Most fell quiet during 30 minutes of streaming cars, the occasional blaring of sirens drowning out sporadic sobs from onlookers.

"It keeps coming and coming and coming," said Judy Vasquez, 56.

Standing along the route, spectators said, was a way to get near to the families of detectives Randy Bell and Ricky Childers. A few said it was better than being part of the masses at the funeral service because it allowed them to express grief and support as individuals.

Hillsborough sheriff's reserve Cpl. Eric Myers stood at the corner of Adamo Drive and 39th Street and balked at the idea that he should be doing anything other than directing traffic this humid Saturday.

"Without law enforcement, you wouldn't have freedom," said Myers. "But this is the price we pay," he said, his eyes overflowing. The collective support from people standing at the intersection made up for some of the pain, Myers said.

"This is what makes America."

The winding motorcade filled all three lanes of Adamo Drive, never mind that one normally is reserved for traffic in the opposite direction.

"Magnificent," said Tanya Morris, 38, who has two brothers in the Tampa police force. "They laid Tampa's finest to rest in a fine way."

Cocoa police cars pressed forward, then Rockledge police, Crystal River police, Daytona police, Temple Terrace police. A patrol car from Illinois.

"They're more than a brotherhood," said Darryl Oliver, 40, "because they're a brotherhood under fire."

Okeechobee police followed, Panama City police, Palm Springs police.

A small group grasped a large American flag. Lamented one watcher, Pete Soto, 58, of Brandon, "They don't get enough of our thanks on a regular basis."

Jim Blount, 71, a retired deputy from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, sat in his Dodge truck and wiped his face, wet with tears, afterward. "The spirit was there," he said.

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