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Tampa police honor fallen officers

TAMPA

Michael Roberts was a doting husband, an ecstatic father and a lover of practical jokes, both giving and receiving them.

On Wednesday, he was one of 29 slain Tampa police officers memorialized on a granite monument and honored with bagpipes, prayers and a 21-gun salute.

The occasion, an annual event at Tampa Police Department headquarters, paid homage to 38-year-old Roberts' character and heroism.

"By everyone's account, he was an exceptional individual and a consummate police officer," Chief Jane Castor said. "With his skill and his vigilance, he was dedicated to making a positive difference in our community."

But both Castor and Mayor Pam Iorio were careful to focus equally on those who had been killed in years past, and whose relatives sat side by side with Roberts' survivors.

"The wounds caused by an officer's death can never heal," Castor said. She described one slain officer's son who was in his 50s when they met. He broke down and cried when he recalled being 8 years old and hearing his father had been killed.

"In law enforcement, it is our job to fix things that are wrong," she said. "The stark reality is that we cannot fix Mike's death. The pain does not ebb through the passing of time."

Iorio remembered Detective Juan Serrano, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Gibsonton in 2006. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about Juan Serrano," she said. "He looked after me and he was my friend."

And she spoke of officers who had died of accidents and illness. "The one thing they don't tell you when you become mayor is how close you become to the police department and how you view the police department as part of your extended family," she said.

'He was genuine'

To Roberts' friends and family, still pained by the tragedy of Aug. 19, it was a day to see his legacy achieve permanence.

Police say Roberts was questioning a man pushing a shopping cart on Nebraska Avenue that night when the conversation turned violent. They say the man, Humberto Delgado, was concealing four guns and used one to shoot Roberts at close range.

Delgado, a 35-year-old former police officer who has battled mental issues, unemployment and homelessness, is awaiting trial.

Before the shooting, fellow officers said they could always count on Roberts to brighten their day with his pleasant demeanor and sharp sense of humor.

They described him as unpretentious.

"He was genuine," said Chris Hendrix, 40, who worked with Roberts in the close-knit canine unit. "You looked forward to seeing him every day. There is not a place I can go in Tampa that we don't have memories of Mike."

Sgt. Paul Mumford said he doesn't know when he will get over the loss. "It's a daily remembrance," he said.

Officer Tom Cotton said he was struck by Roberts' easy way with people, whether they were fellow officers or civilians.

"He could make anything more bearable," he said. "He was just that kind of person. He had an energy about him that most people don't have."

Helicopters overhead

As the morning wore on, the ceremonies continued. There was the presentation of colors by the Mounted Patrol, the singing of the national anthem, the playing of Amazing Grace on bagpipes, and taps on a bugle. It was not the first memorial for the Roberts family and it won't be the last.

Helicopters flew overhead. White-gloved reservists stood in single file. Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin read from The Monument, a poem that ends with the plea, "let my name be the last."

In the audience sat Giselle Childers, ex-wife of Detective Ricky Childers, who was shot to death in May 1998 by Hank Earl Carr, an escaping murder suspect. There were at least a half-dozen members of the Childers family at the ceremony, including sons and grandchildren.

"To have them do this, honor them, it gives us some peace," said Giselle Childers, 52. "If they're forgotten, they've died for nothing."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4602.

Tampa police honor fallen officers 05/05/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 12:05am]
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