They came from as all over— most of them civilians, hands over hearts, a cold rain soaking solemn faces — to honor a slain Tacoma police officer.
Friday’s procession — 750 vehicles, ferrying thousands of law enforcement officers — wound along South Tacoma Way from its starting point at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in honor of Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez.
Along the way, knots of onlookers gathered to offer their thanks to a public servant who died while doing his job.
“It broke my heart,” said Toni Fairbanks, a Pierce County employee who works at the county annex just around the corner from Tacoma police headquarters on Pine Street.
At Cheney Stadium, among those waiting for shuttle buses to take them to the Tacoma Dome service was Christian Matters. He knew Gutierrez and lived in the neighborhood the officer patrolled.
“I would see him in the community, and he would stop to say hello to everybody,” Matters said.
Tracy Lyons, who works at the South Sound 911 communications center, also knew Gutierrez.
“I rode with him in his police vehicle for the Lakewood Four memorial,” Lyons recalled, remembering the four Lakewood police officers who were gunned down as they gathered in a Parkland coffee shop in 2009.
The Bilyeu family from Port Orchard, Gutierrez’s neighbors, attended the memorial to show respect for their neighbor and friend.
“We had a few good beers on his porch,” Joe Bilyeu said.
I would see him in the community, and he would stop to say hello to everybody
Christian Matters, Tacoma
Standing just outside the JBLM gates, Tacoma residents Cole Nagel and his stepfather Michael McDonald held two flags — Nagel a black American flag with a blue stripe that is the law enforcement memorial flag, and McDonald a traditional American flag.
The duo came to show support for the Tacoma Police Department and other law enforcement agencies that gathered at the base before sunrise to start the procession to the Dome.
“After the tragedy with the Lakewood Four many years ago I always told myself anytime it happened in this area, I’m going to honor that person and honor our society and go out and pay my tribute to that fallen officer,” Nagel said. “(The) least I can do is be out here for this little bit in the cold to say thank you to them.”
Reece Mills, 12, stood at the intersection of South Tacoma Way and Pine Street where hundreds of Tacoma police cars joined the procession.
“We have been to these before, sadly,” the boy said.
He and father, Richard Mills — part of the support team for the Patriot Guard motorcycle honor group — were there from University Place.
“We always appreciated the stuff police officers do around our community,” Reece added.
Law enforcement personnel from Montana, Idaho and Oregon, as well as federal agencies, joined officers from across Washington for the procession.
All law enforcement agencies from Pierce County and the South Sound were there as well, along with fire and rescue personnel.
Terri Peterson lives near the neighborhood police sub-station where Gutierrez served. Standing along the procession route, she carried a sign that read, “God Bless the Blue.”
“I’m out here to say thank you, and to let them know the East Side supports them 100 percent,” Peterson said. “They are a marvelous group of public servants.”
Mario Woodworth, from Lakewood, watched the procession with his 6-year-old daughter, Izabel, who wants to be a police officer when she grows up.
Woodworth is a tow truck driver who often works at accident scenes with police. He knows policing is one of the toughest jobs there is.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Dad and daughter ran into a 7-Eleven near police headquarters to buy coffee for some police officers working the procession route as their way of saying thank you.
I'm out here to say thank you, and to let them know the Eastside supports them one hundred percent
Terri Peterson, Tacoma
Justin Murrell, a law enforcement officer who lives outside Graham, came to the procession with his daughters, Stella, 10 and Camille, 4. The three stood gamely in the rain as Murrell held soaked neon yellow and pink posters with hearts drawn on them.
Murrell, an officer for 12 years, said he wanted to show his daughters how law enforcement and the local community comes together during a tragedy.
“I wanted them to see how powerful it can be,” he said. “It’s a very tragic event but it’s something that, every call we go to, every day ... it’s very important for my girls to know how important our time is together when I’m at home, and when I’m at work, it’s a different story.”
Deputies Michael Gordon and Ed Draper of the King County sheriff’s Sound Transit division helped patrol parts of Pierce County and Tacoma while local officers formed the procession and headed to the Dome.
Noting the “brotherhood and sisterhood” shared by law enforcement professionals, Gordon said it’s hard whenever any officer is killed, whether it’s close to home or across the country.
“We know what our families would go through if we were gone,” he said.
The day was a reminder of the dangers officers willingly face every day.
“I like helping people,” said a Seattle officer directing traffic along the procession route. “That’s what I go out there to do.”
I wanted them to see how powerful it can be when everyone comes together, especially in law enforcement
Justin Murrell, an officer who brought his daughters to the procession
As the procession neared its end, veterans groups gathered on the side of the street across from the Dome. They held American flags and stood quietly as a larger flag flapped over East D Street.
On the other side of the street, scores of uniformed officers stood in line, waiting for the hearse carrying Officer Gutierrez to make its way in. Hands folded uniformly in white gloves, they stood silently in the cold rain.
A pipe band led the procession up to the Dome, followed by five mounted officers and an officer leading a saddled horse with no rider — only black riding boots, facing backward, tucked backward into stirrups.
Gutierrez’ patrol car was slowly driven behind the horses, its emergency lights shrouded in black. A black band that read, “In memory of Officer Jake Gutierrez,” was affixed to its side.
The flag-draped casket was removed from the hearse and pall bearers accompanied it into the Dome.
Staff writers Debbie Cafazzo, Brynn Grimley, Candice Ruud and contributing writer Brooke Thames contributed to this report.