Boston police Officer Jose Fontanez had served District E-13 in Jamaica Plain since 1996, nearly the entirety of his 29-year career with the department. That service ended on Tuesday, when Fontanez died at Boston Medical Center because of complications from COVID-19.
Fontanez is the first Boston police officer to die as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. He was 53, and had four children and one grandchild.
“Let me tell you, folks, this was a great man," Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said at a news conference outside City Hall Tuesday. “Loved this city. Loved his family. And loved his family in blue and served them well." Gross thanked nurses and doctors at Boston Medical Center “for taking care of our brother.”
Fontanez received several commendations over the course of his service, Gross said.
“We lost a hero today to this virus," Mayor Martin J. Walsh said. "We honor him and remember him as a hero, because as a police officer he served our community and stood in harm’s way to protect us. He made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Walsh said he spoke with Fontanez’s wife and brother, and asked others to stay home and observe social distancing practices in his memory.
“It’s a reminder of how serious this danger is to all of us,” Walsh said.
“This one hit us pretty tough,” Gross said. “Our first-responder families, we’re not robotic. We’re not immune. This virus is devastating almost everyone it touches.”
Governor Charlie Baker expressed his condolences during a press conference Tuesday and said the pandemic has highlighted the difficulties of working in law enforcement.
“They open doors every day where they have no idea what’s going to be on the other side,” Baker said.
Gross said 67 sworn Boston police officers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, 53 of whom are still not working due to the illness. Nine civilian workers have also tested positive, department spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle said over the weekend. Any police facility where an officer or employee who tested positive has worked is subject to a thorough cleaning, Gross said.
A Boston native, Fontanez and his wife, Kegi Selena Fontanez, were parents to Charis, 35; Keaton, 24; and 19-year-old twins Ethan and Kerstin; and grandparents to Charis’s 1-year-old daughter, according to Keaton and Ethan Fontanez.
“He was a great dad — supported me throughout my whole life, even when I didn’t support myself,” Keaton said by phone from Florida on Tuesday afternoon. “He was a great police officer, and everyone around him loved him. When he retired, he wanted to buy a house down in Puerto Rico," where his mother was born.
Jose Fontanez loved taking his children to visit the island, where his mother had grown up before coming to Boston, Ethan Fontanez said.
Fontanez had traveled to Florida in December to watch Keaton graduate from the University of Tampa, Keaton said, a trip that meant a great deal to both because of the son’s hard work studying criminology — a subject close to the veteran officer’s heart.
“He would always tell me, ‘If you’re going to do this, you have to do it right, and for the right reasons.’ Maybe someday I can follow in his footsteps,” Keaton Fontanez said.
For his dad, he said, being a police officer was about “just basically protecting everyone, just being there, serving your community.” He always “wanted to be there, and to help.”
For Ethan Fontanez, the dream of having his father present when he graduates college is gone, along with his hopes of seeing Jose’s proud smile someday when he marries, and when he becomes a father himself.
“There’s a lot of things that I wish he could stick around for,” said Ethan, who attends UMass Dartmouth. “I’m really glad that he got to raise me and see me go to college.”
Jose Fontanez loved going to movie theaters and amusement parks, and he was a lifelong baseball fan, his sons said.
“He really was that person that spent time in the most fun ways possible,” Ethan said.
Jose suffered from minor health issues, including high blood pressure, but was generally healthy, Ethan said. He was looking forward to retiring from the police force in a couple years.
Ethan Fontanez last saw his father in mid-March, when Jose helped him move out of his dorm as the university campus began to shut down because of the virus.
He was admitted to the hospital on April 3 and fought for 11 days before his death Tuesday, Keaton said.
“He went in, and he fought the best that he could, but his body just gave out on him,” he said.
It was not immediately clear how or where Fontanez contracted the virus. Gross said Boston police have adequate protective equipment while on duty, but declined to detail what officers are using to keep from becoming infected on the job.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Massachusetts had 957 reported deaths related to the novel coronavirus and 28,163 confirmed cases, according to numbers released by the state’s Department of Public Health.
Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.