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Final salute to fallen officer

Jennifer Lin, Inquirer Staff Writer

Updated: Thursday, November 8, 2007, 2:28 AM

Pallbearers carry Officer Cassidy's casket. As his family descended the steps of the basilica, officers who were waiting outside stood at attention and saluted.

Under the gilded dome of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, the family of Chuck Cassidy yesterday remembered the slain officer as "a gentle man with a perfect heart" and challenged the city to come together to stop the violence.

Pallbearers carry Officer Cassidy's casket. As his family descended the steps of the basilica, officers who were waiting outside stood at attention and saluted. ERIC MENCHER / Inquirer Staff Photographer
Katie Cassidy (second from left), daughter of Officer Chuck Cassidy, stands by her father's casket at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. CHARLES FOX / Inquirer Staff Photographer
During the funeral for Officer Chuck Cassidy, above, his brother-in-law Tony Conti kisses the casket. The funeral procession, below, travels west on the Schuylkill Expressway toward Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham. MICHAEL BRYANT / Inquirer Staff Photographer
Police officers salute and onlookers applaud as the hearse carrying Officer Cassidy's casket passesthe 35th District, at Broad Street and Champlost Avenue, where Cassidy worked. CLEM MURRAY / Inquirer Staff Photographer
The slain officer's family - (from left) daughters Katie and Colby, wife Judith, and son John - stands at the front of the church at the beginning of the Funeral Mass. CHARLES FOX / Inquirer Staff Photographer
The casket carrying Philadelphia Police Officer Chuck Cassidy is wheeled down the aisle at the conclusion of his Funeral Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City. CHARLES FOX / Inquirer Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson enters the Cathedral Basilicaof SS. Peter and Paul. People - many with no connection to Cassidy - started lining up for a public viewing before the basilica opened its doors at 7:30 a.m. MICHAEL LEVIN / Inquirer Staff Photographer
Police officers and other mourners line up to pay their respects to Officer Cassidy. Behind him, his badge number is in flowers.
Photo Gallery: Final salute to fallen officer

Before an audience of thousands, Cassidy's brother-in-law, Tony Conti, said if that happens, "at least we will have a sense of an answer" for why he died.

The most powerful politicians in the city and state heard his message. In the front row were Gov. Rendell, Mayor Street, and Mayor-elect Michael Nutter. Behind them were hundreds of senior police officers and rank-and-file members of Cassidy's squad from the 35th District, who had placed red roses, one by one, at an altar.

More than 2,000 people crammed into the basilica and its chapel for the Funeral Mass, with another thousand watching the service on a giant video screen outside.

Before the service began, family photos of Cassidy flashed on the big screen. Officers and passersby paused and watched as a slide show took everyone inside his world.

There were photos of a trip to Walt Disney World; Cassidy walking down the aisle with his bride, Judy; the family at Christmas; a daughter's graduation; a group shot of a softball team.

Several police said what made this funeral harder to take than others was the way Cassidy was killed. The shooting was captured on surveillance tape, and video clips were played over and over again on television leaving people with a vivid, disturbing feeling of being a witness to murder.

"He was ambushed," said Jerry McLaughlin, a retired Philadelphia officer who knew Cassidy and attended yesterday's funeral with his 3-year-old daughter. "He was the third cop shot in a week. Just the way it happened - he didn't have a chance."

Skip Kane, a retired Philadelphia detective, said, "This seems a lot more cold-blooded."

Joseph O'Brien, a retired captain who worked with Cassidy, said the rising violence in the city was adding to people's anguish.

"When they see a police officer shot like that, it reminds them of how vulnerable they are," O'Brien said.

People started lining up for a public viewing before the basilica opened its doors at 7:30 a.m. Many did not have a direct connection to Cassidy, but felt compelled to pay their respect.

Cecilia Hodge has an uncle who is a police officer in Florida, and said the death of any officer hits close to home. She took a morning break from her job with a securities firm to attend the viewing.

"These guys are on the streets to protect us," she said. "If you take that away, what protection do we have?"

Cassidy, 54, a 25-year veteran and father of three, was shot in the head at point-blank range Oct. 31 after he walked in on a robbery at a Dunkin' Donuts store in West Oak Lane. He died a day later. After an intensive manhunt, police in Miami arrested 21-year-old John Lewis on Tuesday.

"It's a hard day, a sad day," said Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson as he arrived at the basilica before the service. "It's difficult for me because this happened under my watch."

Police came from as far as New York City, Baltimore, Lancaster and Harrisburg, with hundreds of state troopers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware as well as representatives from suburban departments: Cherry Hill, Abington, Cheltenham, Collingdale, Haddon Township.

Ken Coluzzi, the police chief in Lower Makefield Township and a former homicide officer in Philadelphia, said a hit to the Philadelphia department is felt by everyone.

"Suburban police departments look to Philadelphia as the home team," Coluzzi said. "We're rooting for them. It's heartbreaking. This affects every police officer."

During his homily, the Rev. Carl Janicki, president of Cardinal Dougherty High School, Cassidy's alma mater, said Cassidy laid down his life for friends.

"He went to Dunkin' Donuts to check on them - employees who knew him by name and people he knew by name, friends in the community," Janicki said.

"At that moment, in that doughnut shop, virtue and vice met," he said. "It may appear vice wins, but we know in our hearts, vice may win the moment but virtue always wins the day."

He said one gauge of that is the prayers and gestures of condolence, like the makeshift memorial outside the Dunkin' Donuts on North Broad Street. Neighbors from the community have left notes and flowers.

At the close of the Mass, Bishop Joseph McFadden read a message from Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was in Rome.

Rigali wrote, "When one of you is harmed, all of us are hurt."

He added, "In laying down his life for us, Officer Cassidy fulfilled a service to all of us, to our city and to the greater community."

As the family stood around the casket, Cassidy's college-age daughters reached out several times to touch it. A nephew had drawn the program cover, which read, in crayon: "Uncle Chuck, Our Hero."

After the service, Nutter called this "a very sad day for Philadelphia."

He said he was heartened that the suspected killer was captured, "and I expect him to be brought to justice," Nutter said. "But this is the reality that takes place on the streets of Philadelphia."

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said the death of Cassidy would serve as a "rallying call" to deal with violence in the city.

"We understand the meaning of working together, mourning together," Ayers said. "That's the message I took from today. We can do this. Coming together, we have an opportunity now."

As the Cassidy family walked down the steps of the basilica, more than a thousand officers who were waiting outside stood at attention and saluted.

Bagpipes played.

And a flag-draped coffin was placed in a hearse.

Go to http://go.philly.com/shooting for complete coverage of yesterday's funeral, including video and photographs showing a day of memorial, from the viewing yesterday morning to the burial. Plus previous coverage.

View a slide show of photographs from yesterday's Funeral Mass and burial at http://go.philly.com/cassidy

Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.

Jennifer Lin, Inquirer Staff Writer

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