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Slain police officer honored with Back Bay memorial sign

It was a typical buzzing Friday afternoon on Massachusetts Avenue: trucks droned, buses whirred, and cyclists whizzed by.

But on a swath of sidewalk near Marlborough Street, 50 police officers stood in silence before a newly posted sign: “Detective Roy Joseph Sergei, Killed in the Line of Duty.”

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The sign, unveiled Friday in front of Public Alley 429, was a tribute to Sergei, a 17-year veteran of the police department who died 25 years ago on Friday. He was struck by gunshots as he pursued an armed gunman nearby.

“People walking by will look up and say, ‘I wonder who that is,’ ” said Michelle Sergei-Casiano, the fallen officer’s oldest daughter. “And they’ll go home and look him up, and they’ll learn about my father.”

The shooting occurred early the morning of Oct. 2, 1987. Four officers confronted Ted Jeffrey Otsuki, a career bank robber, as he tried to climb over a rear fence on Commonwealth Avenue. Otsuki fired shots at the officers, striking Sergei four times and injuring one other.

Many police officers attended to pay respects.

Bill Brett for The Boston Globe

Many police officers attended to pay respects.

Otsuki, a Texas native, fled the scene, sparking a nationwide search. He was captured in Mexico almost a year after the shooting, and was found guilty of murder in 1989. Sergei died from his injuries at Brigham and Women’s Hospital three weeks after he was shot.

At the time, Sergei’s funeral was one of the largest in Boston’s history, as more than 6,000 police and city officials paid their respects at a West Roxbury funeral home.

Otsuki, now 60, is serving a life sentence at a medium-security prison in Norfolk.

Police officers today maintain that Sergei’s death continues to be a source of grief, but his sacrifice an inspiration.

Boston Police Superintendent William Evans said Sergei was a committed officer who was dedicated to his work. On night patrols, he said, while other officers may have taken short breaks to skim a newspaper, Sergei never paused, driving up and down Back Bay streets and scanning alleys for trouble.

“He was just a tenacious worker,” Evans said. “We used to joke that he never slowed down.”

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said he was a young officer with the Lowell police when Sergei died. He had been moved by the depth of the officer’s sacrifice, Davis said, and the sacrifice of his family.

“I want you to know, we don’t forget, we’ll never forget, and we are here to help you any way that we can,” Davis said.

Michelle Sergei-Casiano was a senior in high school when the shooting occurred.

On the day honoring her father, she said it’s hard not to think of all the things he missed out on — the detective badge he had worked toward for years, which was given to him posthumously; her high school graduation; his youngest child, a toddler at the time who is now 26 years old; grandchildren.

After the shooting, Sergei seemed to recover — he was able to walk and eat — before he suddenly died of a heart attack.

“We thought he was going home,” Sergei-Casiano said.

Maryellen Sergei, widow of Roy Joseph Sergei, held their daughter, Michelle Sergei-Casiano, during the dedication for her husband in Boston’s Back Bay.

Bill Brett for The Boston Globe

Maryellen Sergei, widow of Roy Joseph Sergei, held their daughter, Michelle Sergei-Casiano, during the dedication for her husband in Boston’s Back Bay.

Surrounded by her father’s fellow officers, Sergei-Casiano said it was easy to remember her father’s commitment to top-notch police work, keeping a copy of all his notes in neat files at his home office.

But outside of work, she said, he was a prankster. On yearly family trips to Falmouth, he would squirt his children with a water gun on the walk to the beach, insisting to them that it was raining.

“He was the type of guy that if you needed something, he was the one to go to,” she said.

At the end of Friday’s ceremony, family members pulled a black cloth from the sign, officers clapped, and bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.”

Minutes later, as officers milled on the sidewalk, a boy on a green bicycle on the sidewalk across the street pointed to the crowd and asked his mother what all the fuss was about.

“A brave policeman died there 25 years ago,” said the woman, as the two turned into an alley.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

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