Parishioners of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church mourned slain Philadelphia Police Officer Robert Wilson III on Sunday, embraced his grieving fellow officers, and collected money to help support his two young sons.
Wilson, 30, was killed Thursday in a GameStop holdup just two blocks down the street from the gray stone church that serves the Swampoodle neighborhood of North Philadelphia. The death of the officer - who was buying a video game for his 9-year-old son, Quahmier, as a reward for good grades - rocked the region.
"This man was buying a gift to reward his son for doing well in school," said the Rev. Stephen D. Thorne, pastor of the church.
The congregation filling the pews of the soaring sanctuary responded with a standing ovation.
"Officer Wilson, we thank you for choosing a great profession. We thank you for your commitment. We thank you for the smile and the way you went about your business. We thank you for putting your life on the line. You gave your life to save others and we just want to thank you," the priest said.
Morning sunlight streamed through the ornate stained-glass windows as Wilson's fellow officers from the 22d District joined parishioners in walking to the altar to donate money for Wilson's sons - Quahmier, who turns 10 on Monday, and year-old Robert Wilson IV.
Thorne acknowledged Quahmier's birthday, asking, "What do you say to him tomorrow?
"Our hearts are broken with what happened last Thursday," Thorne said. "He gave his life because he was deeply rooted in the community." Wilson was not a member of the parish, he said.
"It's painful to think of someone who dedicates their life to service to be cut down in such a shameful way."
Parishioners prayed for the officers of the 22d District and gave them a standing ovation.
Brian Saba, an eight-year veteran of the 22d District, sat with fellow officers in a back row. He said he was moved by the community's response.
"I thought this service was amazing and it shows there's great support for us out there," Saba said.
Among those attending the Mass was film and television actor David Morse . He said he attended to show his support for Wilson and his family.
"I'm a member of the community just like everybody here," Morse said. "I thought it was beautiful. Obviously, there's a lot of feeling in this community for this man. First, he's a man with kids in the community and a police officer - and clearly there were a lot of police here for him and I appreciate that."
Funeral services for Wilson have not been announced. Brothers Carlton Hipps and Ramone Williams have been charged with murder in Wilson's death.
As the Mass began, one speaker summed up why St. Martin de Porres hosted the informal memorial.
"Officer Wilson served our neighborhood and died protecting our neighborhood," said Sister Nancy Fitzgerald, principal of St. Martin de Porres Catholic School.
"That alone brings us to our knees."