Hundreds gather for slain officer's viewing
"It takes time to heal—there are no words that can instantly take away the pain that they feel right now," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said as hundreds of his colleagues filed in behind him.
"But we certainly can do what we can to pay the proper honor and let his family know what he meant to all of us."
Today, that healing process began. Both for the family of Officer Robert Wilson III and the thousands of police officers in the city who have been in mourning since Wilson was gunned down inside a GameStop in North Philly last week.
Whitby Avenue near 52nd Street in West Philly became a sea of blue uniforms as hundreds of police officers marched in formation into the Francis Funeral Home, where Wilson's body was placed for his viewing.
The wide variety of patches sewn into those uniforms proved that the city cops weren't alone: departments far and wide sent representatives, including officers from Radnor, New Holland, the state police and even Amtrak Police.
A small contingent of New York Police Department officers also attended.
"We came here to honor one of our brothers who made the ultimate sacrifice," one of the NYPD officers, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
"We're a global family; we're in every city," she said, noting the recent deaths of Officers Rafeal Ramos and Wenjian Liu, killed Dec. 21 as they sat parked in a patrol car.
"When any of us go through something like this, we come out and support them."
There was no lack of support today.
Scores of city police officers from across the city, representing every district and division, assembled in front of the funeral home for a march in Wilson's honor.
And as they gathered for that procession, every single officer greeted Officer Damien Stevenson, Wilson's partner.
Some shook Stevenson's hand. Some embraced him. All offered gestures of comfort in this dark time, however little they could provide as he mourns.
Stevenson was with Wilson that day in North Philly and witnessed the gunbattle that claimed his partner's life firsthand.
He even engaged the suspects as they tried to flee, shooting one of them, Carlton Hipps, in the leg. Ultimately, he was able to help apprehend both of them, ensuring they will answer for their actions.
But today wasn't about that; it was about honoring the officer who died protecting other customers in that video-game store from harm.
Among the city leaders who came to pay respect to Wilson and his family were Mayor Nutter and Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison.
And after the procession had ended and the literally block-long line of mourners assembled, waiting to gain entrance to the funeral home, a black SUV cut a path to the building's front door.
Out stepped Chip Kelly, who came to deliver a special present to Wilson's oldest son, Quahmier.
As the Eagles' head coach rushed past the TV cameras, one of his assistants handed him a football emblazoned with the distractive kelly green of the city's football team.
On it were printed the words "In honor of Officer Robert Wilson III. EOW [End of Watch]: 3/5/15"
Kelly personally delivered the ball to Quahmier, who turned 10 on Monday, inside the funeral home.
Outside, Clarence Hatcher watched the ceremony unfold.
Today bore a lot of meaning for the Wyncote, Montgomery County resident.
In the 1970s — a lifetime ago, he said — he too served in the 22nd District, where Wilson was assigned.
It was a lot different back then, the 84-year-old said: Gangs fought for control of the streets, and violence was a constant threat.
"People need to know that officers do their job, and that it's a dangerous job," he said. "These men and women go above and beyond the call of duty to protect people."
He felt an obligation to attend today's viewing, he said, as a member of the "fraternity" of police officers. But that wasn't the only thing that drew him to West Philly.
"It's hard to express words of comfort for the family," he said, "but I just want them to always appreciate what he's done and the lives he's saved.
"They should celebrate his life and the heroic manner in which he lived."
With that, the former officer walked toward the line of mourners, receding far up the street.
He said he didn't care how long he had to wait; he was going to pay homage to his fallen brother.