ST. PETERSBURG — A funeral service for fallen St. Petersburg police officers Thomas Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz is today at First Baptist Church, 1900 Gandy Blvd. Thousands are expected to attend, including Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and law enforcement officers from across the country.
Graveside service ends and the crowd begins to disperse.
Bagpipes begin playing as hundreds of law enforcement officials continue to stream into the cemetery.
Law enforcement begin lining up under a large oak tree next to the gravesite.
The funeral procession arrives at the cemetery.
The procession passes the Pinellas County Courthouse. Numerous people, including judges, deputies and lawyers line up along 49th St. N to watch the processional pass.
"When we do lose an officer, whether we know them or not, it's like losing our family," said Pinellas County sheriff's deputy Ben Sturgis, who has been in law enforcement since 1974. "It's something we'll never forget."
As the funeral procession made its way to Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park Cemetery in Clearwater, three women gathered in the northeast corner to quietly honor the fallen officers. They said they watched the service on TV and felt the need to come out and pay their respects.
"I cried through the whole thing,'' said Shirley Rayner, 43, of Clearwater. "It's just so sad. There's not anybody in Pinellas County this isn't affecting.''
She was there with her cousin Yaslyn Washington, 54. What is this world really coming to?'' Washington wondered aloud. "There's so much violence when we all need to come together as one.''
Nearby a rainbow formed in the water from a fountain in a small lake.
Workers from the Pinellas County Courthouse are beginning to pour out of the building after getting a building wide e-mail that the procession was on its way.
They are trying to line both sides of 49th St. N outside the court house.
Dawn Henrichon, 50, who works for the office of the state attorney.
"We're just here to show respect," she said. "Many of us have worked with one or both of the officers. It's been somber all week. Trials have been reset and hearings have been reset. So many of our people are related to officers or deputies and we were all hoping we would never have to go through this. We have a lot of respect for them."
The hearses carrying the bodies of the fallen officers depart.
Officers stand at salute. When they finally break, at least half wipe tears from their eyes. They look skyward as a white dove flock fluttered over the church before disappearing into the blue, cloudless sky.
Along Roosevelt Boulevard, west of Interstate 275, many people are already lined up waiting for the procession. They are holding flags and memorials in a scene likely replicated all along the route to the cemetery. Along Roosevelt Boulevard, west of Interstate 275, many people are already lined up waiting for the procession. They are holding flags and memorials in a scene likely replicated all along the route to the cemetery.
Each casket is carried by eight pallbearers and placed into awaiting hearses. As they carried the caskets into the hearse, it sounded like a whole pack of dogs are crying from across the parking lot, more whimpering than barking.
Flags that draped the caskets were folded and presented to each family, one by Harmon, one by Foster.
Autumn Galluccio, 8, wore her best blue dress and silver shoes to the funeral. Her mother pulled her long hair into a ballerina bun with a sequined tiara.
She sat on the curb as K-9 officers and their dogs came out of the church. Autumn wiped tears from her freckled cheeks and said she begged her mom to let her come because "those officers are from St. Pete and so are we ... I don't know them but they're my friends, it makes me so sad."
Her mother, Carolyn Galluciio, 42, remembered the last time an officer was shot in her city.
"I was 11, I remember feeling so violated and scared. Those police were supposed to protect us but that was the first time I realized they weren't safe either. It just brings it all back here today.
"All these officers, I hope I never have to see this again."
Officers fold American flag over casket into a triangle
A bugler plays taps.
Honor guard pull the American flag taut over the caskets as other members give a 21-gun salute. All officers salute.
Moments later, seven helicopters fly overhead in a V-shape. The U.S. Coast Guard helicopter trails off, symbolizing the lost officers.
Honor guard carry the two caskets out of the church. Bag pipes play in the background.
K9 officers take their spots behind the families. Color guard raises the flags.
The families of the slain officers are taking their seats outside the church, looking on at the two vehicles. Canines bark. News helicopters hover distantly in the background. Otherwise, it's completely silent.
Katie McKendree, 17, asked her mom to let her miss school today at Seminole High so she could be here. Long ago, the St. Petersburg K-9 squad helped her train her German Shepherd. "I just wanted to be here," she said. "Out of respect, I guess. It's so awful for those kids to lose their dad ... there's just no point ... they're so young."
"It makes you think about how much our officers risk their lives for us everyday ... I never really thought about that before."
Police dogs and their handlers stop in front of the two hearses waiting outside the church as hundreds of other police officers stream out of the church.
Near where the procession will pass on 49th Street, Judy Rosenberger, 53, talks of arriving for work at the Pinellas County Jail property room more than two hours early. She parked in the courthouse parking lot, facing the street where the procession would pass. She hopes to be able to see it before her shift starts at 3:30 p.m.
At work, "everyone is just going through the motions," she said.
"I stopped in at Bright House on East Bay and there were no cars in front. I went inside and there were three or four girls and they were all crying. That's when the mayor and police chief were speaking."
The ceremony is over and people are filing out of the church. Bagpipes play briefly outside. St. Petersburg police officers gather around the police cars of the fallen officers.
As the families are escorted from the church, hundreds of honor guard and officers are lined up outside at attention. Blocs of police officers assemble outside the church by rank and department, dressed in gray, white, khaki, blue, green, according to the uniform colors of their departments.
Family and squad members of the slain officers are leaving the sanctuary.
Pat Yatsui, 59, was sitting with her mother-in-law, Miyo Yatsui, 95, in the bleachers on the side of the church. Both clutched American flags as they watched the service inside.
Pat, an insurance agent, watched the shooting on television. "We walked here this morning because this is all just so terrible ... I can't stand that something like this happened in our city. I came to support our police and show them I appreciate everything they do."
"It's so sad ... but look around," she said, scanning the large crowd. "I'm so proud to be part of this community."
Members of the honor guard salute before the two flag-draped casket.
Police are assembling outside the church by ranks, department by department. Blocks of officers in gray, white, khaki, blue, green, according to the uniform colors of their department.
Police outside the church leave their seats and gather near the church.
Pastor Alberto Bent sings There Will Be a Day.
Harmon: "But I will tell you from this point forward after today's service and after what you hear outside, the unit designator of K2, Officer Jeffery Yaslowitz, and S-23, Sgt. Tom Baitinger, will never be uttered again on a police radio as they have completed their mission here on this Earth."
Harmon is the first to mention the name of the man who killed both police officers before he was killed by police. "
"I'm still angry," Harmon said. "Hydra Lacy took a piece of me — two pieces, actually, about two hours apart, on Monday. This violent felon, this criminal, this rapist, this wife batterer, and this murderer, as far as I'm concerned, got off too easy.
I appreciate the expressions of grief from their families, his family, but right now it doesn't seem to help a whole lot. What Hydra Lacy cannot take from us — and will not take from us — is our spirit, our love, our faith and our desire to serve.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Charles "Chuck'' Harmon thanks the many dignitaries for attending the service. He also thanks the families of law enforcement who have provided emotional strength during the past few days.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster tells the families of both officers that the city will stand by them: "To the entire family, Mayor Bill Foster said: "We love you. And know that this community will continue to lift you up with prayer and will support and stand by you long after the setting of the sun this day because we know that you will have moments of darkness." He recalls Monday's deadly shooting and the police response: "I have never been so proud of any group of heroes than I was that day."
Police spokesman Bill Proffitt says about 10,000 people are in attendance: 3,200 inside the church, 4,000 in seats set up outside and another 2,000 law enforcement officers in the front parking lot and lining the road with motorcycles and dogs.
Dorothy Silva, 67, and her husband Ed, 69, rode their bikes a mile down Fourth Street from their Lamplight Village home to be here. They stood behind the K-9 officers, listening on parked bikes.
Tears rolling under her sunglasses, Dorothy said, "I just had to be here. People call for police whenever they're in trouble. Now they need us."
"I want to be there for their families and the other officers ... It just hit me so hard. My son-in-law is a detective in Massachusetts and I think about this happening to him all the time.
"You think the whole word is so great then something like this happens ..."
"When I see police officers now I know I think of them differently — all they do for us. And you know when allt hese guys go home tonight, I bet they'll get a lot of hugs and kisses!"
Pastor Alberto Bent of Frist Baptist Church sings Amazing Grace and My Chains Are Gone.
Addressing law enforcement, Rice says: "Today our community has been tragically reminded of the risk they take for all of us. Thank you doesn't seem like nearly enough. But on behalf of a grateful community, thank you for what you do. You are grieving today, perhaps angry today. And that is understandable. But anger will not save you. You may be tempted to despair today, and wonder if the sacrifice is worth it. It is.''
He later said "May their sacrifice inspire us to fight the good fight and finish the race."
Twenty-eight horses and riders line up outside the church, including two riderless horses with empty saddles. The horses' ankles are wrapped with gold tape.
The Rev. William Rice, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater: "Our community is forever scarred ... The unthinkable has happened....'' He says Yaslowitz "was a good, brave, strong, loyal man. But he was more. He was also a man of faith."
Casey Harvey, Yaslowitz's nephew, said the public thinks of his uncle as a hero, which was certainly true. "To me, he was a great uncle and my role model. Above all he was a great Christian. He had an unshakable faith in Jesus Christ." He adds: "He was always so humble about his work, his service to others was never about personal glory ... It was about dedication and service to God, said We're all better for having known him. We'll never be the same. I hope others will be influenced by the life of this man and the goodness inside of him ... They say there are no perfect men, but my uncle was pretty darn close.''
Lt. Gatlin said that a few days before Yaslowitz was killed, the two talked about dying. "He looked at me. You know what, I'm ready. I know that I'm ready if it happened today."
Lt. David Gatlin of the St. Petersburg Police Department, recalls Yaslowitz: "Your outpouring of support to us means more than we can express.'' He said Yaslowitz had "this quiet stability that draws people to him." He was a mentor to many young officers. "Personally, I can tell you that I often relied on him when there was no other option."
Christopher Schmidt, of Parrish United Methodist Church, quotes Baitinger's wife, Paige: "Tom changed my life with his love." He adds: "Today we celebrate Tom and Jeffrey. We celebrate that of them which lives on in the hearts of each of us."
"He became a part of our family," remembered Brian Youngblood about Baitinger.
His daughter, Ashley, spoke next.
"We were like his own kids that he never had," she said, pausing for a moment. "But when he got tired of us he could leave."
The crowd erupted with laughter.
Det. Mark Marlan, St. Petersburg Police Department, recalls Baitinger: "Tom was the type of sergeant that everyone wanted to work for. Tom was the type of leader that led from the front . . . I've been able to find comfort in the fact that Tom is in a better place and is at peace.''
Outside the church, St. Petersburg College administrator Watson Haynes recalls attending the funeral for 30 years ago for Herb Sullivan, the last St. Petersburg police officer killed in the line of duty. This feels "almost the same. It's that emptiness, its the experience. Your heart goes out to everyone involved."
First Baptist Church Pastor Philip Lilly, a former police officer, delivers the invocation: "As a pastor I am in denial at this point, as a former uniformed police officer I am angry. As deputy federal security director for Tampa I am honored to be here with friends and family.''
As the service begins, video from inside the church begins to stream to large screens in the parking lot. Outside the front of the church, people are standing. On the side lots, there are bleachers and rows of black folding chairs filled with different uniforms and hats. Patriot guard riders from all over the East Coast are here.
Thousands of people are outside the church, where it's silent except for the helicopters roaring overhead and an occasional dog bark.
Patriot guard rider Terry Longpre, 63, came from Ellenton to attend the service. "I've been to a lot of these ... just to support the guys, show honor and respect ... Each one has its own flavor, its own sorrow and no matter how many you go to, it never gets any easier.'' He wears a silver badge draped in black over his black leather motorcycle vest.
The audio from inside the church is too soft to hear, but everyone is straining to listen to the tributes.
The ceremony begins.
Gov. Rick Scott, his wife and Attorney General Pam Bondi pause for a moment and bow their head in silence near the vehicles that were used by Yaz and Bait, the officers' nicknames.
Gov. Rick Scott is meeting inside the church with the families of the two slain officers, according to police spokesman Bill Proffitt.
Meghan McGrvey, 46, of Tampa, was one of the many people aboard a shuttle taking mourners to the memorial services. The shuttle passed rows of saluting officers and dozens of canines sitting by officers along the side of the road.
"Oh, this is so sad. I'm going to start crying already," McGarvey said, tears trickling under her sunglasses. She didn't know the slain officers — she just loves cops. "I love that they go out and protect us every day," she said. "They died taking care us …all these dogs … I keep thinking how much his poor dog will miss him."
All police academy recruits from St. Petersburg College are at the service. There's 57 in all and they are all wearing their khaki uniforms.
Officers holding back the crowd as family arrives.
Numerous Miami-Dade police officers are at the funeral. Two of their officers were shot on Jan. 20 while attempting to serve a warrant.
Services set to begin in about an hour.
There are more than 100 cars parked at the off-site parking location. Several hundred more cars and officers gather outside the church. Law enforcement officers stand at attention along church walkways.
People arriving by shuttle bus from the off-site location are told not to get off the bus because "the family is getting here."
Gandy is a river of police cruisers, all with lights silently flashing.
Mourners are filing into the church. At the front of sanctuary are two flag-draped caskets, pictures of the officers and a number of bouquets of flowers. Doors first opened at 8:30 a.m.
Hundreds of officers, family and friends are lining up to get into the church. There's still two hours until the funerals start. Among the numerous law enforcement agents at the service are representatives from the Dane County Sheriff's Office in Wisconsin, where Baitinger served for seven years before coming to St. Petersburg.
Tampa police Chief Jane Castor and staff also arrive. Mayor Bill Foster walks through the church gallery, shaking hands of people there.
Emergency lights flashing, about 200 police cruisers and motorcycles staged at Tropicana Field begin to make their way toward the funeral.
Law enforcement from across the Tampa Bay area are starting to show up. Dozens of officers clad in freshly pressed dress uniforms mill outside the church, hugging, shaking hands and making final preparations to honor the fallen officers.
In front of the church, Yaslowitz and Baitinger's vehicles face each other, hood to hood. Wreathes cover the hoods of their cars. Over the road to the church, two ladder trucks hold aloft a giant American flag.
— Waveney Ann Moore and Rita Farlow contributed to this report.