Shelley Minniti took a break from her job at Pierce County Community Connections on Friday afternoon to stand on Pacific Avenue with her co-workers in the rain.
She was there to see the procession of hundreds of law enforcement officers, first responders and others escorting the body of slain Tacoma police officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez from the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office to a Sixth Avenue funeral home.
“This is our third time out here,” Minniti said, referring to processions for four Lakewood police officers gunned down in a coffee shop in 2009 and the killing a month later of a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy responding to a domestic dispute.
“It’s sad,” said fellow employee Damaris Guerra. “I was raised on the East Side.”
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Just before 1 p.m., dozens of motorcycle cops climbed on their bikes parked in the middle of Pacific Avenue. The small crowd of onlookers waiting on the sidewalk suddenly grew silent.
A few moments later, a Tacoma Fire Department ambulance pulled out of the Pierce County Medical Examiner parking lot.
It was bearing Gutierrez’s body.
The procession passed under a 20-by-36 American flag attached to ladder trucks from the Tacoma Fire Department and West Pierce Fire & Rescue. The route to the funeral home headed down Pacific Avenue through downtown Tacoma before making its way up to Hilltop and ending on Sixth Avenue.
Another American flag hoisted by ladder fire trucks flapped in the cold, wet breeze over Sprague Avenue, right before the procession made its final turn onto Sixth Avenue and headed to Tuell-McKee Funeral Home.
Roads were blocked off, and officers from many local departments stood watch, some monitoring street corners and some standing at attention as they waited.
Dozens of civilians dotted the street toward the end of the line: They came to pay their respects and show support for the Police Department, they said. Many said they’re close with someone who’s a first responder and understood the stress of knowing that when they leave for work, they may not return.
“My uncle was a police officer in the city of Spokane, so it hits close to home, and me and my sister came out to support,” said Paddy Laushot, who stood on Sprague near the end of the procession with her sister. “It’s sad. … it’s disturbing to think that they’re out there trying to protect us and they end up going home in a casket. It’s sad.”
Jason Lee Middle School Principal Christine Brandt stood outside the school at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Division Avenue with hundreds of her students. Their smartphones aloft, the kids took videos of the helicopters that beat overhead and of the police motorcycles that breezed by while staff gently herded them away from the street. This week has been an opportunity to teach the preteens about how a community comes together in the face of a tragedy, she said.
“We want to show our respect for him,” Brandt said. “We run with four pillars — respectful, responsible, compassionate and safe, and what we’ve talked about is how this officer emulated those four pillars for us.”
Down the block, non-uniformed Tacoma Police Department employees clustered together, red-eyed. MaryAnn Clabaugh, who has worked in the finance office at the Police Department for 23 years, knew Gutierrez. In the small department, everyone knows each other, she said. He was quiet and smiley. When she heard the news, she was sick to her stomach.
“I have three family members who are law enforcement officers, so it was very upsetting to me,” Clabaugh said. Since Wednesday, the mood at police headquarters has been “absolutely so somber. Very emotionally draining, very emotionally tiring,” she said. But then, there has been the wide-ranging community support: “It’s like a florist shop in our department right now.”
As the flashing lights of the police motorcade and the solitary ambulance finally turned the corner down Sixth Avenue and approached the funeral home, silence fell. People began to weep.
Dozens of officers stood at attention and saluted in the funeral home parking lot as onlookers crowded into the street for a glimpse. Cameras whirred. Someone in the street eventually broke the silence, yelling, “We won’t forget you, Jake!”
“It took us right back to the four officers in Lakewood that were shot,” said Steve Williams, who lives in Ruston and came to Sixth Avenue with his wife to show respect.
He didn’t know Gutierrez, but that didn’t matter, Williams said: “Just a fellow brother, a fellow citizen, somebody that we respected tremendously.”