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Officer who protected city ‘like a lion’ recalled at funeral

 Kailer Pettijohn, 5, saluted and police officers stood at attention outside the First Baptist Church in Randolph, where the funeral for Boston police Officer Dennis Simmonds was held Thursday.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Kailer Pettijohn, 5, saluted and police officers stood at attention outside the First Baptist Church in Randolph, where the funeral for Boston police Officer Dennis Simmonds was held Thursday.

RANDOLPH — In the same church where Boston police Officer Dennis Oliver “DJ” Simmonds Jr. listened to the congregation sing “This Little Light of Mine” as a child, his closest friends gathered on Thursday to sing their goodbyes.

Simmonds and his circle of friends called themselves “The Fab 5,” representing the five houses where they spent time together as boys.

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At his funeral at the First Baptist Church, a dozen climbed up to an altar overlooking Simmonds’s casket, which was covered in a blue City of Boston flag with his police hat placed on top.

Three sang “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men and “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly before Simmonds’s casket was taken from the church to Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, where he was buried next to his grandfather.

But Simmonds’s death didn’t extinguish the light that he used to hear his church sing about, said the Rev. Kirk Byron Jones.

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“He didn’t force his light to shine. He just let it shine,” Jones said. “His light will shine on. It will keep on shining.”

Simmonds, 28, died on April 10 after a medical emergency at the city’s police academy in Hyde Park. The Boston Police Department is investigating whether his death may be tied to injuries Simmonds sustained during a confrontation with the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers on April 19 in Watertown, said Sergeant Michael McCarthy, a police spokesman.

Simmonds suffered a head injury after one of the suspects threw an explosive at him, police have said.

He was honored for his bravery with the Schroeder Brothers Memorial Medal, the department’s highest accolade. Simmonds was slated to receive a National Association of Police Organizations Top Cop Award from President Obama on May 12.

Sergeant Dennis C. Cogavin said thousands of people rose to the occasion during the bombings and manhunt in Watertown, but Simmonds stood out.

“Dennis was already at that level. He didn’t need to rise to the occasion. He was already there,” said Cogavin, who supervises Simmonds’s squad on the gang unit.

Police officers stood at attention at the funeral for Boston police Officer Dennis Oliver Simmonds Jr.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Police officers stood at attention at the funeral for Boston police Officer Dennis Oliver Simmonds Jr.

His younger sister, Nicole Alexandra Simmonds, said her brother lived his life as a lion and a lamb.

The lamb, she said, always told his mother, “I love you,” before bed. The lion protected the city of Boston with ferocity.

“If you threatened his city, the lion would roar,” said Simmonds, who was surrounded by her uncles and wearing a dress in her brother’s favorite color, red.

Simmonds fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming an officer in 2008 when he joined the Boston police force. He was assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force, also known as the gang unit. He previously worked as an officer in Allston-Brighton, and then Mattapan, said Boston Police Commissioner Williams Evans.

Simmonds built his reputation by getting guns off the street, making arrests, and connecting with gang members, officials said.

At Boston Medical Center last week, Evans recalled a doctor telling him that Simmonds has a “strong heart.”

“That always sticks with me. He had a strong heart and that’s why he chose policing,” Evans said. “It wasn’t his heart that killed him. It kept beating. And he made the city so safe that there was no doubt in our mind that it wasn’t his heart that was going to take him.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.
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