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Solemn tributes for Kerrie Orozco at services, on streets

Solemn tributes for Kerrie Orozco at services, on streets

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A saddened, solemn community folded Officer Kerrie Orozco into its embrace Tuesday before letting her go.

Hundreds of family members, friends and colleagues in blue attended Orozco’s funeral at St. John’s Catholic Church at Creighton University.

Law enforcement officers and firefighters from around the Omaha metro area — and around the country — flowed over by the thousands into additional viewing areas.

And Orozco’s fellow citizens lined her funeral procession route from downtown Omaha to her final resting spot in Council Bluffs to show respect for her service.

The Rev. William Bond, who presided over the Catholic funeral service, called that respect good and beautiful.

Bond, the fallen officer’s parish priest from St. Joseph Church in South Omaha, said Orozco knew the risks of her chosen profession and died doing what she loved to do.

He cited the “Kerrie On” mantra that has become familiar in law enforcement circles since Orozco lost her life last Wednesday. Bond called on mourners to follow Orozco’s example, to bring good to others, to get more involved in the community, to make it a better place.

“She is a wonderful person who has touched our lives,” he said.

Among those attending the funeral were Gov. Pete Ricketts and his wife, Susanne Shore; Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad; U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse; U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford; Mayor Jean Stothert; Police Chief Todd Schmaderer; members of the Omaha City Council; and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.

Along the procession route at 10th and Douglas Streets, Mary Mornin of Omaha said she wanted to honor Orozco for choosing a life of service. Mornin’s grandfather William Good was an Omaha police officer killed in the line of duty in 1916.

Said Jenny Hrabik of Omaha, who stood at the same intersection waiting for the funeral procession to pass by, “She united the whole community.”

Hundreds of supporters along the route of the procession unfurled white sheets with a blue line across them, to shield mourners from a handful of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church.

The community embrace began Monday, when supporters formed long blue lines to begin trying to thank Orozco and say goodbye.

Lines of people, many wearing blue, flowed for hours up the steps and into St. John’s Church during an afternoon visitation for her family, police officers and close friends. The lines continued for more than an hour after that during a visitation for the public.

Then people packed St. John’s for an evening vigil service led by Bond.

He urged Orozco’s family, friends and colleagues to honor their feelings of anger and confusion in the wake of Orozco’s killing by a fugitive she and other officers were attempting to arrest. She was 29.

“But be ready for the next feeling,” Bond said. “After the anger and confusion, I think you will find a sense of hope, a sense of gratitude.”

On Monday, a quiet sadness prevailed.

Hundreds of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers gathered at the church on the Creighton University campus. They came from Orozco’s own police department. They came from near: the Douglas and Sarpy Sheriff’s Offices, the Nebraska and Iowa State Patrols, the Council Bluffs Police Department. They came from far: Orange County, California; Chicago; Jefferson City, Missouri; Madison, Wisconsin; Idaho.

Many of the officers embraced as they met in line. When they hugged, their slaps on the back thudded against protective vests, a sign that even on this day they could be called into harm’s way.

“It’s all about paying respects to the families — Kerrie’s family and the Omaha police family,” Chief Schmaderer said in an interview outside the church. “You find your best comfort when you are together.”

The public joined the line, too, led by Mayor Stothert.

“I hope we can honor Kerrie by having this bring everyone together,” Stothert said after leaving the church. “We are a very caring, giving community. ... She’s a hero, and we will miss her very much.”

Kyle McAcy, a 21-year-old Nebraska state trooper, returned to Omaha from North Platte to honor the officer who set an example for him while he was in the Omaha police Explorers program.

The stories people tell of her exemplary police and community work “are 100 percent accurate,” McAcy said. “That is the Kerrie I knew.”

Many people stopped outside to see a flower wreath and Car 1863, the slick-top cruiser from Orozco’s gang unit. Earlier in the day, officers covered the car’s windows in black felt. The vehicle was all in black except for blue ribbons.

Mourners added tributes large and small to the memorial.

Omahans Maria Garza and Maricela Gonzalez, who work at a nightclub where Orozco and her husband had worked security, placed a bouquet of flowers below the wreath. The blooms were red, white and blue, for the fallen officer’s patriotic service, the women said.

And the Sheetmetal Workers Union Local 3 delivered a 6-foot-by-5-foot stainless steel replica of an Omaha Police Officer badge. Jefferson Davis of Woodbine, Iowa, spent 72 hours making the badge. He left space for fallen officers’ names to be engraved in the middle.

About 200 members of the Nebraska and Iowa Patriot Guard lined 24th Street holding American flags. One of them, Verle Packard of Omaha, said his daughter and son-in-law bowled with Orozco in Council Bluffs.

“They said Kerrie was so fun and loved to laugh and loved kids. She would talk to all the kids in the bowling alley,” Packard said.

The Omaha police honor guard carried Orozco’s casket into the church more than an hour before the visitation began. Orozco’s family, including husband Hector Orozco Lopez, was in the church, out of the public eye. Cameras were not allowed inside.

There, people formed a long line up an aisle. They passed a family photograph that showed Orozco and her husband; her stepson in a sweater vest; her stepdaughter with a smile below a strand of hair across her forehead; and Orozco’s tiny infant daughter wrapped in a pink blanket in her mother’s arms.

They filed to the front of the church, paused at the open, flag-draped coffin with the honor guard, and walked out wiping away tears.

Orozco touched scores of people throughout the city as a youth baseball coach and a Girl Scout leader. She was known as a warm and compassionate woman — officers say she was kind to people even as she was arresting them.

Capt. Rich Gonzalez, who oversaw her unit, said Orozco was “a great cop ... a difference maker on and off the job.”

His brother, Deputy Chief Greg Gonzalez, said Orozco’s death has shown the public a different side of police officers — a side that gives back even off the job.

“Outside of the blue uniform, the men and women of the Police Department are doing good work,” Gonzalez said. “This has galvanized the community and the Omaha Police Department.”

At the vigil, friends again lined up for Orozco, this time to eulogize her. Mourners packed the church, and at least 60 more spilled over into a nearby campus auditorium.

Officers talked about her toughness and kindness on the job.

“She was the glue that held us all together,” said Officer Kevin Wiese, who served with her in the gang unit.

A buddy from childhood days in Walnut, Iowa, Jennifer Ploen, talked about how Orozco earned the nickname “Care Bear” for being so loving to everyone in their school.

Ploen recalled an interview that Orozco did, in which the officer talked about trying to help young people avoid trouble by finding their self-worth and described herself as “just a piece of the puzzle.”

“I ask myself and all of you, how can we ever move on from here?” Ploen said.

She suggested an answer, referring to the #KerrieOn hashtag.

Ploen, now a Millard schoolteacher, suggested that the long blue lines carry on beyond paying last respects, and into emulating the person they had gathered to honor.

“How can we carry on the work of Kerrie?” Ploen asked. “Can you imagine the world we could create, puzzle piece by puzzle piece, if we all lived and loved like Kerrie?”

World-Herald staff writers Cody Winchester, Emily Nohr and Roseann Moring contributed to this report.

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