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'They just look like they're resting'


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 1998

TAMPA -- They came by the hundreds Friday to bid the two detectives goodbye, officers in blue uniforms with black bands over their badges, women in heels and sunglasses, men in dark suits, a wailing child in white patent leather shoes, an older woman leaning on a walker.

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Fallen officers Randy Bell and Rick Childers lay in open caskets side by side during a wake at the Garden of Memories Chapel on a green stretch of Lake Avenue. They were dressed in full uniform, with long sleeves and blue ties. They wore badges and peaceful expressions.

"They just look like they're resting," said Tampa Officer James Ferguson, pausing in front of his patrol car outside the chapel.

Dozens of retired officers turned out to see the faces of two men who had come up the ranks behind them. Rookie officers who had never met the detectives joined government leaders in waiting a half-hour more for a final look at the detectives. As mourners filed past, many sobbed quietly. Others comforted the detectives' families, standing near the caskets.

Veronique Cusseaux had her son drive her to the funeral home Friday night even though his prom date was waiting.

Cusseaux had to, she said, because six months ago Bell strode into her room at St. Joseph's Hospital after a domestic dispute just "to help me put the pieces together." And there hadn't been time to say thank you.

Thousands are expected to attend the funeral at 11 this morning in the East Hall of the Tampa Convention Center. The doors open at 10. City parking lots and garages open at 9.

After the service, a procession that will include the police honor guard, dignitaries, family members and local law enforcement will travel to Garden of Memories-Myrtle Hill Cemetery at 4207 E Lake Avenue for the burial. A NASCAR pace car will be included in memory of Bell's love of auto racing.

The route will be closed during the procession but the public is invited to stand along the route to watch and motorists may join in at the end. Local television stations, channels 8, 10, 13 and 28, and Bay News 9 plan live coverage.

But the service won't really bring closure, Tampa Officer Gary Robertson said outside the wake Friday.

In his hand, Robertson held funeral announcements of Bell's death. One line said, "When I'm gone, release me, let me go."

Said the 17-year police veteran, "They say time heals all wounds."

But, he added, "I don't really think so."

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