CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of family, friends, and fellow officers turned out Friday morning for the funeral for slain Officer John Rivera, killed while off-duty last weekend in the River North neighborhood.
Uniformed officers and other mourners lined sidewalks in the Hegewisch neighborhood Friday morning, as a hearse carried Rivera’s casket from Elmwood Funeral Chapel to Church of the Annunciata, as the community showed up in full force to honor the fallen officer.
“Everybody knows someone who knows him,” Kristal Stosich said. “I feel it’s my duty as a person of this community, as a person who backs the blue, to be here.”
She wasn’t the only one. Students from Jane Addams Elementary School walked from class to the Church of the Annunciata, where the funeral mass began at 10 a.m.
“He is one of us, so we’re here to show support,” said Addams assistant principal Daniel Alvarez.
Alvarez said he wants his students to understand the magnitude of what it takes to be an officer.
“So our students understand the important job our officers serve every day, and that the job that they do is one that is appreciated,” he said.
The community certainly appreciates it. Every tree near the funeral site has a blue ribbon tied around it; a symbol of respect for police.
“I broke down a few times,” Stosich said.
Because Rivera was not on duty when he was killed, he did not receive a full Chicago Police Department fallen officer funeral.
Rivera, 23, was out with his girlfriend, a fellow off-duty officer, and another friend in River North last weekend, when he was shot and killed. Police said the shooter had been involved in a fight with a group of Hispanics at a nearby McDonalds, and went to get his gun looking for revenge, and then shot the first Hispanic person he could find. Tragically, that was Rivera.
Police said Rivera shielded his girlfriend from the shooter’s bullets, even after he was already wounded.
On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined hundreds of officers who paid their respects to Rivera during his wake at Elmwood Chapel.
Rivera’s friends said they are trying to hold on to memories of him.
“When he smiled, he glowed. We all just, we loved his smile, and his sweet gentle nature,” Jennifer Navarro said. “He was always so encouraging, and just so kind.”
Colleagues said all Rivera wanted to do was help people.
“He went out there every day trying to make this city safer and better, and we’re going to work to keep those officers going, and honor his memory, and support his family,” said his commanding officer, Gresham District Cmdr. William J. Bradley.
Rivera’s partner, Officer Nate Smith, wrote a heartfelt letter about the pain and sadness he’s felt over Rivera’s murder.
“John, you weren’t just a coworker, you were one of my best friends I’ve ever had. And I’m always going to remember you and thank you for that,” Smith wrote. “Sitting here I can’t think of a dull moment we ever had. All I can think of is moments of laughter and funny times. And those memories I’ll always hold dear to my heart.”
“Until I see you again, I love you brother,” Smith added.
Two men have been charged with murder in Rivera’s death, and are being held without bail. Police are still searching for a third suspect.
For those in Hegewisch during the funeral, the focus was solely on honoring Rivera.
“The young man deserves his honor, and he seemed like he was a wonderful, wonderful child. So I’m sure the family is proud of him,” community member Patricia Aguilera said.
Because Rivera was not on duty when he was killed, he did not receive a full Chicago Police Department fallen officer funeral. Instead, a private funeral was held at 10 a.m., followed by a private burial.