Mourners remember SWAT officer as devout, dedicated, unselfish
LOS ANGELES ” Bagpipes wailed as pallbearers in dress blues and white gloves carried the casket of Officer Randal Simmons into a packed church for the funeral of the city’s first SWAT team member killed in the line of duty.
A hundred somber police officers snapped to attention and saluted as the flag-draped coffin was pulled from a white hearse and carried into the 10,000-seat Crenshaw Christian Center Faithdome.
Inside, speakers remembered Simmons as a deeply religious man and dedicated officer who served as a mentor to many children and as a loving husband and a father to his own two teenagers.
Among those who attended the service were Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Police Chief Daryl Gates and the SWAT officers who were with Simmons when he was shot in a standoff with a man who told police he had killed three family members.
Police Chief William Bratton told those SWAT team officers that Simmons “understood and appreciated your desperate efforts to save him.”
As a police officer, Simmons, 51, had feared no evil because he know God was with him, Bratton said.
“He has truly gone home,” the chief told mourners.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Simmons was known for going beyond the call of duty.
“They called him a deacon for a reason,” the mayor said. “He mentored at-risk kids, he led Sunday school on the sidewalks, he drove toys for kids at Christmas time.”
A number of children at the funeral wore white T-shirts bearing Simmons’ picture and the words, “Our Hero.”
Simmons’ body was escorted to the church by dozens of motorcycle officers in a motorcade that wound through South Los Angeles. The eight pallbearers were all current or former members of the SWAT team.
“He was a super-solid guy. He touched a lot of people on duty and off-duty,” said Officer Tim McCarthy, a six-year veteran of the unit who was trained by Simmons. “How can I sum it up? One of our boys took a hit.”
Those who worked with Simmons were shocked that he had fallen to a gunman’s bullet. He was considered a perfect tactician at the top of his game who risked his life for others during a raid.
“When Randy spoke, you listened,” said James Hart, Simmons’ former partner of eight years. “Everything he did … it was like he directed a perfect script. He made sure nobody got hurt.”
Simmons was the LAPD’s first SWAT officer to die in the line of duty since the unit was formed in 1967. He had been with the elite unit for 20 years and had the second-longest tenure of anyone on the team.
Simmons worked hard to stay in peak physical condition and was known to fellow officers as “the rock.”
Police were still investigating the deadly Feb. 7 incident.
Simmons was shot as a SWAT team entered the home of Edwin Rivera, 20, who had called police and said he had killed his father and two brothers.
Fellow SWAT officer James Veenstra was shot in the jaw before the team retreated under heavy fire from the gunman. Veenstra is recovering following surgery.
The hours-long standoff ended with a police sniper killing Rivera.
SWAT officers are trained to enter a structure when they believe civilians inside are in imminent peril.
Police Commission Inspector General Andre Birotte has said preliminary information gave no hint of problems with police actions.
No amount of planning or experience can protect against a stray bullet, said Donn Kraemer, a SWAT officer in the Denver metropolitan area who is president of the Rocky Mountain Tactical Team Association.
“You take all the precautions and you do everything right, but unfortunately sometimes things just go upside down,” said Kraemer, one of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the 1999 Columbine school massacre.
Villaraigosa acknowledged the grief that has swept through the LAPD’s rank and file after the death of Simmons.
“We know that the central story of this department has never been written in consent decrees or the reports of inspectors general,” the mayor said. “It’s written in the footprints of thousands of cops like Randy Simmons who go out there and risk everything ” everything ” every day for the rest of us.”
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