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Slain Lakeland police officer laid to rest

LAKELAND — Margarita Crispin's hand trembled as she brought a blue rose to her lips.

She kissed the flower and tossed it onto a silver-topped casket that held the body of her son, Lakeland police Officer Arnulfo Crispin, killed last week in the line of duty.

Then she fell back into her seat, crying inconsolably with family members and officers at her side.

"Dear Lord, please give me strength. Dear Lord, why didn't you leave him with me a little longer?" Crispin cried out in her native Spanish while clutching an American flag.

Behind her, hundreds of friends and family gathered for Tuesday morning's graveside service at Oak Hill Cemetery in South Lakeland, along with community members and thousands of officers from around the state.

Before the graveside service, more than 3,000 gathered at Victory Assembly of God church in North Lakeland for a funeral service.

Officers from across Florida crowded into the sanctuary with the young officer's relatives and friends. Before the service began, Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi entered through a side door and took seats.

Lakeland police Chief Lisa Womack's voice quivered as she described Crispin during the service. The 25-year-old officer made a quiet first impression but proved himself confident. During his 18 months on the job, Crispin earned a reputation as a kind but no-nonsense officer.

"The Lakeland Police Department was strengthened by Crispin from his very first day on the job," she said.

Born in Tampa, Crispin grew up in Willow Oak near Mulberry, south of Lakeland. He joined the police force in June 2010.

The night of Dec. 18, Crispin was shot while patrolling the Crystal Lake area. He was last heard over a police radio saying he was stopping to approach people in a park. Six minutes later, Officer Heather Freeman arrived to provide backup and found Crispin on the ground.

Witnesses said Kyle Williams, 19, of Lakeland shot Crispin in the head while the officer was searching the group, according to an arrest report. Officers arrested Williams the morning after the shooting, and he remains in the Polk County Jail charged with first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer.

A light rain began to fall as the funeral procession left the church and headed toward Oak Hill Cemetery on U.S. 98 S.

Residents stood under umbrellas along the route, paying respects to an officer they likely never met.

"If you truly have that respect, you feel like you've lost one of your own," said Karen Singletary, 46. "It shakes a good-hearted community to its core."

A procession of motorcycles and 44 bagpipers preceded the black hearse carrying Crispin's body at Oak Hill Cemetery.

A helicopter fly-over, a riderless horse, the playing of Amazing Grace and the final out-of-service radio call were among the several tributes given to Crispin, which are traditional to police memorials.

"Your tour of duty is complete," the dispatcher said on the final call.

Slain Lakeland police officer laid to rest 12/27/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 8:52am]

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