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Hundreds gather as fallen officer's name added to Tampa monument

Cynthia Roberts  holds her son, Adam, 3, while reaching out to touch her husband’s name. Cpl. Mike Roberts died Wednesday in a confrontation with a heavily armed man.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Cynthia Roberts holds her son, Adam, 3, while reaching out to touch her husband’s name. Cpl. Mike Roberts died Wednesday in a confrontation with a heavily armed man.

TAMPA

The white paint was still wet when she peeled back the rubber stencil bearing her husband's name above a date everyone wishes didn't matter.

Corporal Michael J. Roberts

August 19, 2009

Cynthia Roberts held her 3-year-old son, Adam, in her right arm and reached out with her left. Her fingers brushed across each letter, freshly etched in black granite for everyone to see.

Corporal Michael J. Roberts, her hand swept back and forth. Corporal Michael J. Roberts.

Roberts, 38, died Wednesday night during a confrontation with a heavily armed man pushing a shopping cart on Nebraska Avenue. He was an 11-year Tampa police veteran.

• •?•

Engraver Cecil Murray learned about Roberts' death from television. He knew what came next.

The 55-year-old Plant City man has engraved all of the 29 names that decorate the 11-year-old Roll Call of Duty memorial, which stands at the entrance to Tampa police headquarters, 411 N Franklin St.

On Monday, as Murray waved his sandblaster over the monument, a cloud of dust filled the air, enveloping Roberts' family, prompting them to move a few feet away.

Murray pulled his mask off to check his work. He put it on again and moved the wand back and forth.

Corporal Michael J. Roberts

Corporal Michael J. Roberts

Dust piled at the monument's base. Murray's assistant, a man in a red ball cap, swept it away as officers, detectives and TPD's top brass watched in silence.

• • •

His squad and police dispatchers knew Roberts by his call sign, "Lincoln 61."

The last time he called in, according to police transmissions released Monday, he was stopping a suspicious person at 9:58 p.m. A few minutes later, his radio buzzed as if he were trying to communicate, but no words could be heard.

A minute and 45 seconds later, Sgt. Paul Mumford relayed the worst possible message:

"Lincoln 61 is down."

• • •

The new widow wore a gold ring around her neck and pressed it to her lips when tears came Monday.

Cynthia Roberts received the uniformed mourners, who surrounded her with long, hard embraces. Her son, Adam, a sandy-haired kid in tennis shoes with blinking lights, high-fived the officers and city officials who streamed past.

A police spokeswoman said that in the days since her husband died, Roberts has been consoling the men and women who worked with him almost as much as they've tried to console her.

Sgt. Paul Mumford said the officers who responded that night know this is part of the nature of police work, but that doesn't make it any less difficult.

"As a squad, we feel responsible," Mumford said, "because we weren't there to protect him."

• • •

Police Chief Steve Hogue has tried to help his force make sense of Roberts' death. He has reiterated what every officer knows: That any situation can turn deadly at any time. And the memorial stands outside police headquarters by design.

Officers walk past it daily.

Roberts is the 27th Tampa police officer killed in the line of duty.

The names of two additional officers from Port Tampa and the former city of West Tampa grace the foot of the monument.

• • •

The line stretched out the door of the Blount & Curry Funeral Home in Carrollwood Monday night and wrapped around the building.

Officers, their spouses and kids stood alongside members of the public who got to know Roberts only in the stories told after his death. Hundreds waited.

On monitors above their heads, his life played out in a slide show. There he was, in a little league uniform, as a hockey goalie, in scuba gear.

He sat with his wife on the beach, went nose-to-snout with a dog, walked into a Bucs game with his son, both in jerseys, hand in hand.

He wore a badge.

Further ahead, the badge rested in a glass case with other honors — a patch for the U.S. Air Force, one for the Army. His dog tags.

The line continued into the chapel. White-gloved Tampa police honor guards flanked the casket, Roberts' beloved K-9 dogs at their feet.

Guests who knelt saw a baby's pillow just above Roberts' head. It said, My Daddy.

The scene was somber — maybe too somber for a man known to make people laugh. Roberts' sense of humor found its way through the speakers.

Boom boom boom …

Bass pumped through an electronic dance beat.

Boom boom boom …

The Black Eyed Peas' summer hip-hop jam Boom Boom Pow filled the chapel.

People smiled.

Times staff writer Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Funeral today

A Mass for Cpl. Mike Roberts will be at 10:30 a.m. today at St. Timothy Catholic Church, 17512 Lakeshore Drive in Lutz, followed by a private burial.

Hundreds gather as fallen officer's name added to Tampa monument 08/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 9:58am]
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