A procession Thursday for Boston police Officer Jose V. Fontanez, a 29-year veteran of the force who died this week from COVID-19, carried the decorated officer, father, and grandfather from Boston Medical Center to a funeral home in Jamaica Plain, the neighborhood he patrolled for decades.
Under normal circumstances, police said in a statement, officers would have gathered in tight lines to salute Fontanez on Albany Street near the hospital, where he died Tuesday. But due to social distancing requirements of the pandemic, officers paid their respects by spacing “accordingly with their blue lights activated" along the route to offer a salute, the statement said.
Fontanez’s body was escorted from the campus of Boston Medical Center around noon, passing by his district station and concluding at the Mann and Rodgers Funeral Home.
Police said the procession traveled down Albany Street, taking a right onto Melnea Cass Boulevard. From there it turned right onto Tremont Street, passing by police headquarters on Ruggles Street. Then, police said, the procession continued onto Columbus Avenue and turned right onto Washington Street.
“Let me tell you, folks, this was a great man,” Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said at a news conference outside City Hall on 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, who was 53 when he died, received several commendations over the course of his service, Gross said.
“We lost a hero today to this virus," Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Tuesday. "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.”
Governor Charlie Baker also expressed his condolences 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.
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.