SPRINGFIELD — As friends and former colleagues spoke of Kevin Ambrose’s heroism, his commitment to “the job,” his devotion to his loved ones, relatives of the slain police officer wiped tears from their eyes.
But they could not help but laugh, too.
“I know he is up in heaven, looking and listening to us now,” said Ray Muise, a close friend and former police officer who delivered the eulogy Friday. “I also know what he would be saying, and I apologize, because I can’t repeat that in church.”
It was a moment of levity in a somber ceremony in St. Catherine of Siena Church to remember Ambrose, 56, who was shot and killed Monday while responding to a routine domestic call in the Sixteen Acres section of the city.
Hundreds of relatives and friends filled the church and an adjacent overflow room, while thousands of police officers from around the region gathered outside to accompany Ambrose’s casket to Hillcrest Park Cemetery.
Standing near the casket, which was draped in white and gold, Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet, who had known Ambrose since he joined the force 36 years ago, promised that the officer did not give his life in vain.
“Years from now, men and women that we don’t even yet know will speak of him with reverence and humility,” Fitchet said.
“Sleep well tonight, citizens of Springfield,” the police commissioner continued, “Officer Kevin Ambrose, Badge No. 7, will be on patrol.”
Fitchet remembered Ambrose as a superior athlete — “he could run like a deer while making an over-the-shoulder catch look routine” — as well as an officer who was tough but never mean and who did not hesitate to put his life on the line to protect others.
Most of all, he said, Ambrose was committed to his family: his father and late mother; his wife of 30 years, Carla; a grown son, Kyle; a daughter, Krista; and a granddaughter, Victoria.
The Rev. Joseph Soranno, Ambrose’s pastor at St. Cecilia Church in Wilbraham, said the officer was “as proud as proud could be when he was with Victoria.”
And heads in the front row nodded with approval at the mention of Ambrose’s beloved dog, Zeus, adopted by Ambrose as a puppy after finding him on, of all places, Springfield’s Ambrose Street.
Muise, who had known Ambrose since the two were rookie officers in their early 20s, said Ambrose was a skilled lawman who enjoyed each day of work because it gave him the opportunity to help others.
“Kevin was a hero cop — in fact, he died trying to protect the Mitchell family from harm,” Muise said.
On Monday, according to police accounts, Ambrose responded to a call to escort Shawn Bryan as he picked up some possessions from the apartment of his former girlfriend, Charlene Mitchell. As they walked to the top of the stairs outside the apartment, Bryan pushed Mitchell inside and slammed the door. As Ambrose tried to force his way inside, Bryan shot through the door, hitting Ambrose in the shoulder. He then opened the door and shot Ambrose in the face.
Bryan also shot Mitchell, who remains hospitalized, before taking his own life.
Muise drew the loudest peals of laughter when he spoke of Ambrose’s years coaching his son’s baseball team; he was a coach who loved to instill in children a love of achievement and resiliency.
Muise recalled a conversation Ambrose had with one mother who pushed for games to be canceled if the weather grew too hot.
“We have a solution for the hot weather nights,” the quick-witted Ambrose deadpanned while looking concerned, Muise said. “We give the kids beer.”
Muise and Ambrose shared a cruiser when they were young officers, and Muise remembered many times when Ambrose’s quick decision-making bailed him out of potentially dangerous situations.
In 1985, just after Springfield police officers Alain Beauregard and Michael J. Schiavina were killed in the line of duty, Muise and Ambrose discussed “the what-ifs” of the job: What if the same thing happened to either of them?
“We talked about it, but we never believed it could be one of us,” Muise said. They agreed that if the other one died, the funeral would be more of a raucous celebration, an opportunity to reflect on joyous memories.
After the Mass, officers from around New England, dressed in their finest, some walking, some on horseback, some on motorcycles, escorted the hearse carrying Ambrose the 1 mile to the cemetery.
Residents stood on sidewalks holding American flags and carrying signs that read “Thank you” and “Your work is not in vain.”
A dozen boys and girls from the Sixteen Acres Primary School and Kindergarten sat with their teacher on the school’s front lawn, in the shade of a leafy tree, to pay their respects.
At the cemetery, the skies grew darker and rain began to fall. Still, the thousands of officers stood patiently in rows as they waited to place their white gloves on top of Ambrose’s glistening blue casket, a final gesture of goodbye.