Hundreds of Philadelphia police officers in dress uniforms and white gloves marched solemnly in formation Friday afternoon up Whitby Avenue past the Francis Funeral Home to 52d Street, where the family of fallen Officer Robert Wilson III waited in folding chairs arranged on the opposite side of the intersection.
The officers, led by Wilson's colleagues in the 22d District, then stood at attention under the hazy late-winter sky and saluted his family, including his sister, Shakíra Wilson-Burroughs, and grandmother, Constance Wilson.
"We will never, ever forget," Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said shortly before the march and visitation for the public at the West Philadelphia funeral home, not far from where Wilson grew up.
A second viewing was scheduled for 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday at the Palestra, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, where a funeral service will be held immediately afterward. Wilson will be buried in Fernwood Cemetery in Lansdowne.
Wilson, 30, was on duty in the 22d District last week when he stopped at a GameStop store at 21st Street and Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia to buy a birthday gift for his older son, then 9. He was confronted by two armed men attempting a robbery. A gun battle erupted, and Wilson, who also had a 1-year-old son, was mortally wounded. His alleged assailants were quickly apprehended.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly made a surprise visit to deliver two custom footballs for Wilson's boys. A special message on the balls read, "In honor of Robert Wilson III - From the Philadelphia Eagles - EOW: 03/05/15." EOW means "end of watch."
Beverly Dukes Reed, 70, the mother of a Philadelphia officer, came to pay her respects.
"I pray every day when he leaves," she said about her son, "that he'll come back."
She added, "I'm here respecting all the police officers."
Representatives from other law enforcement agencies also attended the viewing, including a delegation from the New York Police Department.
New York Sgt. Jeannette Torres said the public should not only appreciate Wilson's sacrifice, but also understand that police officers are everyday people.
"We're your mothers. We're your fathers. We're your sisters. We're your brothers. We come from your communities," she said.
For Philadelphia police officers, despite the shocking loss, the work doesn't end, said Officer Samuel Cruz.
"This doesn't change anything with us," Cruz said. "We'll still be out there doing what we're supposed to be doing."
The Philadelphia Police Department and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 have established a GoFundMe page for the family of Officer Robert Wilson III, who was killed in the line of duty. Those wishing to contribute to the fund can also do so in person or by mail.
To contribute online, visit GoFundMe at www.gofundme.
Donations can be made in person at the following Police and Fire Federal Credit Union branches: 901 Arch St.; 7604 City Ave.; 8500 Henry Ave.; 7500 Castor Ave.; 3300 Grant Ave.; and Leo Mall, Byberry and Bustleton Avenues.
Donations also can be made by check payable to "Robert Wilson III Family Memorial Trust Fund." Checks should be mailed to Police and Fire Federal Credit Union, 901 Arch St., Philadelphia 19107.