LUTZ — The Independence Day celebration was days away.
The faithful at Idlewild Baptist Church worked tirelessly to drape starry swags and hang a behemoth American flag some 40 feet tall. They planned for a barbershop quartet and antique cars, period costumes and fireworks bursting from the stage.
Then came the call.
Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, killed in the line of duty Tuesday, needed a proper funeral.
Absolutely, church leaders said.
Idlewild had heard similar requests before, and it makes sense. The church has a sprawling 143-acre campus in Lutz and a sanctuary big enough to house Air Force One at a tilt.
It hosted a funeral for former Hillsborough County Sheriff Walter C. Heinrich in February. And for Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ronald Harrison, shot after leaving a DUI checkpoint in 2007.
"If we get a call from a law enforcement agency and they would like to do a funeral here at Idlewild, we pretty much clear the decks," said executive pastor Brian McDougall.
Two funerals at once was something new, and it meant more logistical challenges. But you don't get into this line of work to be selfish, McDougall said. You make it work.
Starting Wednesday, about 10 people from the church worked closely with 10 people from the Police Department. They tackled everything from music to flowers to greeters and parking attendants.
They arranged for ministers from each officer's home church to speak at the service, for an honor guard to rotate at each casket, and for the lighting and speakers to be just right.
Blount and Curry Funeral Home donated funeral services and caskets.
"It's a good feeling to know that we can help the families of officers that have given their lives to protect our community," said Mike White, the funeral home's director of operations.
Law enforcement funerals are traditionally packed, poignant and ceremonial.
In 2009, 4,000 people attended a funeral for Tampa Police Cpl. Mike Roberts, shot when he stopped to question an armed man pushing a grocery cart. People who didn't fit inside St. Timothy's Catholic Church watched on a screen outside.
The last time Tampa saw a funeral for two police officers was in 1998, when Hank Earl Carr shot Detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell. More than 7,000 people flocked to the Tampa Convention Center to pay respects.
Bennie Holder remembers the planning. He was Tampa's police chief then.
"It takes coordination," he said. "It takes a vast amount of resources. It's tremendous, the amount of resources. You're dealing with the emotions of the officers, you definitely want to be respectful to the families."
Officers from Ohio, New York, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota came to that funeral. So did a Royal Canadian Mountie dressed in full regalia. The families of Childers and Bell knew the double service was important to many people, Holder said.
"We had so much interest from all over the country," he said. "I think Ricky and Randy would have wanted it that way."
Idlewild leaders expect thousands at the visitation tonight, and at the service Saturday. The church's American flag decorations will stay in place, because the officers' families thought it would be nice.
After the last mourner has left, the cavernous sanctuary will go quiet. And Sunday, the volunteers who greeted funeral guests and passed out tissues will come back to celebrate Idlewild's Fourth of July festivities as planned, at an event called Spirit of America.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.