They came by the hundreds yesterday - women in long black dresses, FBI agents in starched white shirts, cops of every rank, gathered under a somber April sky in Pottstown to say goodbye to Special Agent Barry Lee Bush, killed while trying to break up an attempted bank robbery.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller III stood among those honoring a man who died doing the work he loved. As they entered or left the service in an arts center auditorium at the Hill School, Bush's friends spoke of him with eloquence, recalling a man of manners, warmth and determination.
"When he applied to the FBI, you knew he had the smarts and common sense to be an agent," said Richard Rotz, a Montgomery County sheriff's officer who worked with Bush in the Pottstown Police Department.
Bush, 52, was on a team that responded April 5 to a suspected bank robbery in Readington Township, N.J., as part of its investigation into a series of thefts. He was shot - perhaps accidentally by another agent - as the lawmen tried to arrest the suspects outside the PNC branch. He was the 51st FBI agent killed in the line of duty.
An estimated 2,000 or more people attended the service. Afterward, Bush's body was borne to a grave in Pottstown, the community where he was born, carried the last stretch on a horse-drawn wagon. Bush, who lived near Easton, Pa., graduated from Pottstown High School in 1972 and served with the Boyertown and Pottstown police before becoming an FBI agent.
Members of the news media were not permitted to attend the service.
The first mourners gathered in a steady morning rain, and even after the rain stopped, the gray sky fit the mood of the day. Hundreds of police officers came from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and federal agencies. The line of mourners stretched out the door and through the parking lot.
"I have a heavy heart. It's hard," said Rosemarie Dmiterchik, whose late husband worked with Bush in the Pottstown department.
The night of the shooting, she saw Bush's photo flash across the television; she assumed he was being honored for good work. The next morning, she said, she picked up the newspaper to learn he had been killed.
Yesterday, Dmiterchik recalled a man who loved police work, becoming one of two local officers to join the FBI. "The night he left for the FBI Academy, we were all very excited for him, very proud."
Mourners told reporters that the mood of the hall was quiet as person after person filed past a closed casket, then listened to Bush's closest relatives and friends talk about his life.
"Today, we do grieve. Today, we wish we could bring Barry back - back to his squad, back to his dinner table, back to his family and friends," Mueller told the crowd, his remarks distributed by the FBI. "But though our hearts ache, may we find strength in what remains."
New Jersey and Pennsylvania state police lined opposite sides of Beech Street as mourners exited the funeral for Bush, who played a key role in several high-profile cases during his 19-year FBI career. Motorcycles and police cars helped lead the procession to the cemetery.
Later, along the way, the casket was transferred into an enclosed wagon, beneath an arch formed by two fire trucks with ladders extended. Nearby, a riderless horse, with boots on backward in the stirrups, was led by a Pennsylvania trooper.
FBI Agent Gabriel Scala, a family friend for 15 years, read a statement in which Bush's wife, Karen, and children, Jennifer, 23, and Steven, 20, thanked "all of our neighbors, friends, and the entire law enforcement community for their unbelievable support and continued expressions of sympathy."
They asked for prayers for the agents involved in the attempted bank robbery. An internal investigation of the shooting is under way, though the FBI has declined to provide details.
Bush joined the FBI in August 1987, serving in Kansas City, Mo.; he transferred to Newark, N.J., in 1991. He called the job "the ultimate" in law enforcement.
Yesterday, retired Pottstown Police Chief Jim Rodgers said he had last seen Bush when Bush was in Pottstown for the funeral of another police officer. Rodgers said Bush had found it too difficult to go inside for the memorial service.
Now it was Rodgers who found it unbearable to go in, saying he felt he could "be near here, but not in there," as he recalled his friend's dedication.
"It wasn't just a job," he said. "The profession to him meant a lot."
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