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Slain cop's family prepares to say final farewell

Constance Wilson says she’ll always remember her grandson Robert as “someone who wanted to do right.”

Family members at the viewing of slain Philadelphia Police Officer Robert Wilson III on March 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. ( Matt Rourke / AP Photo )
Family members at the viewing of slain Philadelphia Police Officer Robert Wilson III on March 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. ( Matt Rourke / AP Photo )Read more

IT'S THE LITTLE things that Constance Wilson remembers the most about her grandson, Robert.

"That big smile" that he always had on his face; the way he would light up the room whenever he paid her one of his frequent visits; the hugs he would shower her with.

"He was one of the best grandsons you could have," she said last week inside her living room in Angora, a tiny, close-knit neighborhood near the Delaware County border.

"He was someone who wanted to do right, and that's what he did."

This morning, Wilson will say goodbye to her grandson.

She'll brave the rain and march proudly with her family and Robert's colleagues.

She'll hold her head high as she follows the black-lacquered, horse-drawn caisson that bears her grandson's body.

She'll sit inside the University of Pennsylvania's Palestra and listen to city leaders speak about the legacy her grandson leaves behind.

Scores of people have reminded her of that legacy since March 5, when Robert was gunned down inside a GameStop store in North Philly.

Mayor Nutter stopped by her home. Gov. Wolf called her. And dozens of police officers and Fraternal Order of Police officials have paid visits to her, telling her how much of a hero he was.

Yesterday, Wilson sat side-by-side with her family on Whitby Avenue near 52nd, watching as hundreds of city police officers marched toward her and the Francis Funeral Home, where Robert's viewing was held.

"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 before the procession, 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."

"Is this real?"

Wilson said Robert always wanted to be a police officer - it's a family trait.

Her father was a sergeant in the Lawnside Police Department in Lawnside, Camden County. Her sister is a sheriff in South Jersey. Robert Jr., Wilson's father, worked as a security guard for many years.

"This is what he wanted to do: be a police officer," she said. "Bad things sometimes happen, but Robbie was a good guy."

The Wilson family living room is an ever-evolving shrine to Robert and his siblings, its walls covered in certificates, medals and pictures.

Above her end table hangs Wilson's graduation portrait from West Philadelphia High School. He casts a serious gaze from underneath his glasses and navy-blue graduation cap.

After high school, Wilson went to West Philadelphia Automotive Academy, she said. He got a job as a mechanic with the city's Office of Fleet Management on Front Street and Hunting Park Avenue in North Philly.

But the family bug bit him, and he eventually enrolled in the police academy.

The last time Wilson spoke with him, he was on his way to work in the 22nd District, on 17th Street near Montgomery Avenue in North Philly.

He was taking his time, driving slowly through the snow-covered streets.

He promised to complete his ritual of shoveling his grandparents' sidewalk and steps as soon as he could.

Before he hung up, he promised to call her soon.

About two hours later, Wilson received word that her grandson had been shot.

She rushed to Temple University Hospital, where a doctor gave her the news: Robert had died.

"We didn't expect it to be that bad," she said. "When we got there, it was like 'Is this real?' "

The ultimate sacrifice

At Robert's viewing yesterday, the street outside the funeral home became a sea of blue uniforms, hundreds of city police officers representing every district and division.

Toward the front of the pack was Officer Damien Stevenson, Wilson's partner.

His colleagues hugged him, shook his hand. They offered support to a man who was there when two armed robbers shot his partner. A man who helped capture those suspects, ensuring they will face the consequences of their actions.

But Stevenson and the city officers weren't alone yesterday, as proved by the wide variety of patches sewn into the uniforms of the people paying their respects. 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," said one of the NYPD officers, who wished to remain anonymous.

After the procession had ended and the literal blocklong line of mourners assembled, waiting to enter 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 eldest son, Quahmier.

As the Eagles head coach rushed past the TV cameras, one of his assistants handed him a football emblazoned with the distinctive green of the city's football team.

On it were printed the words "In honor of Robert Wilson III. From the Philadelphia Eagles. EOW [End of Watch]: 3/5/15"

Kelly personally delivered the ball to Quahmier, who turned 10 on Monday, inside the funeral home.

The gesture ended a difficult day for the family, who will begin the process again this morning, when a second, larger viewing is held in the Palestra.

A funeral will follow inside the iconic arena, after which Wilson's body will be buried in Fernwood Cemetery, in Lansdowne, Delaware County.

Officer Moses Walker, the last city cop to be killed, is also buried there. It's the third coincidence between the two slain officers: Walker also served in the 22nd District. His funeral was held at Deliverance Evangelistic Church, a stone's throw away from Hope Plaza, the shopping center where Wilson was shot.

"I will always remember the love Robbie showed his family, the love he showed me and his grandfather," Constance Wilson said.

"He was just a lovable guy. He loved everyone."