Law enforcement officers, coworkers and friends gathered in Carmel, New York, to pay their respects to 44-year-old officer John Falcone. The 18-year veteran of the Poughkeepsie force was gunned down last week responding to a domestic dispute. DeMarco Morgan spoke with friends and colleagues of the fallen officer.
Thousands of police officers in dress uniforms crowded the main street of a suburban hamlet Thursday for the funeral of a colleague who was killed while helping to rescue a 3-year-old girl.
They stood at attention, their backs to a frozen lake on a subfreezing day, for elaborate, traditional ceremonies before and after the funeral Mass for Poughkeepsie police Detective John Falcone in Carmel.
A huge American flag, held aloft by ladders on fire trucks, spanned the road outside the church. A motorcade from Poughkeepsie to Carmel included nearly 100 police motorcycles and a fire truck bedecked with flowers. A flotilla of helicopters flew over the church in tribute.
Few of the officers were able to fit into the 600-seat St. James the Apostle Church, where Archbishop Timothy Dolan officiated and prayed "that this brave man may enjoy a reunion with the Lord."
Falcone, 44, was shot to death Friday by Lee Welch, 27, of Catskill, police said. Welch fatally shot his wife and was clutching their daughter and trying to escape when officers approached; Welch then killed Falcone and himself, police said.
Falcone's sister, Victoria Fiorisi, said during the funeral that when her brother announced he wanted to be a policeman, she told him, "Police officers get shot."
"But it's what I want to do," he replied.
Poughkeepsie Mayor John Tkazyik told the congregation that because of Falcone, "another girl is safe home with her family."
Police Chief Ronald Knapp said he was giving Falcone a final order: "Detective Falcone, rest in peace. Let your spirit carry us forward from here."
Chartered buses, SUVs and squad cars had brought in police officers from dozens of departments in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to Carmel, population 5,700, where Falcone grew up. State police spokesman Lt. Thomas Jones said as many as 10,000 were expected.
Streets were closed in Carmel and Poughkeepsie, 22 miles away, for the funeral motorcade. Dutchess County sheriff's deputies covered for Poughkeepsie police so officers could attend the funeral.
When the motorcade arrived in Carmel, Falcone's flag-covered coffin was taken from the hearse into the church on the shoulders of six policemen as his sister and parents, John and Margaret Falcone, stood by.
Bagpipes skirled mournfully; the drums accompanying them were muffled by black-and-purple cloth covers.
On Wednesday, Knapp announced that Falcone, an officer when he was killed, had been posthumously promoted to detective. His shield number — 22 — has been retired and he has been awarded the department's first medal of honor.
The city declared Thursday a "Day of Remembrance."
Knapp said a grand jury investigation into the killings was under way.
Welch shot his wife, Jessica Welch, 28, as the couple sat with their daughter in a car near the Poughkeepsie train station, police said. He then shot himself in the chest, grabbed the child and staggered away, they said.
When officers arrived, one of them wrestled the girl away from Welch before Welch opened fire, hitting Falcone in the head, police said. Another officer tackled Welch, who then shot himself in the head.
Police said the shootings capped a history of domestic violence that prompted the Welches to separate a few weeks ago. Lee Welch had been arrested for violating an order of protection. They had arranged to meet in Poughkeepsie so Lee Welch could turn over the couple's car to his wife, the chief said.
Knapp said Forever Welch, the 3-year-old girl, "is basically the only survivor of this and she is a victim as well."
Falcone, who lived in Marlboro, was unmarried.
The helicopter flyover ended the ceremonies, just as the last notes of taps faded into the air.