PHILADELPHIA — Several officials and community members were on hand to remember the life of Temple University Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald on Friday and said he was a true public servant.
“He cared deeply about the community,” Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said of the Black officer. “Chris was the very best of us. He was a strong, tough cop with a tender heart.”
Shapiro spoke at the funeral for Fitzgerald at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The church was packed with family members, friends, elected officials, along with those from the Temple University and law enforcement communities.
A procession of police vehicles escorted the hearse that transported his casket down Broad Street past Temple University on Friday morning so Fitzgerald could patrol his campus beat once more.
It arrived at the church with Temple police officers serving as pall bearers. Across the street, a blue wave of police officers from Temple, Philadelphia and across the country stood at attention and saluted.
The viewing took place in the morning and the funeral started afterwards. Interment was private.
The Rev. G. Dennis Gill, rector of Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, welcomed the family, friends and Fitzgerald’s law enforcement colleagues to the church.
“It’s a wonderful expression of solidarity at a time of extreme tragedy,” Gill said. “We hope you will be comforted and lifted up by our service.”
Other elected officials who attended the funeral included Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and City Council President Darrell Clarke.
Temple University president Jason Wingard announced Thursday that the school would pay for Fitzgerald’s funeral and provide tuition remission for his children should they attend Temple.
Shapiro said Fitzgerald reminded us that we have to treat law enforcement as the “noble profession that it is.”
In his previous position as Pennsylvania attorney general, Shapiro was the state’s top law enforcement official. Fitzgerald’s mother, Paulina, a former Philadelphia police officer, worked in his office, he said.
Fitzgerald, a 31-year-old husband and father of five, was killed Feb. 18 by Miles Pfeffer, an 18-year-old Bucks County, Pennsylvania, man. Pfeffer was arrested the next day at his family’s home in Buckingham Township and faces murder and a host of other charges.
Bishop Juan Marrero of Crossroads Community Church – Fitzgerald’s uncle – said his nephew wore his police uniform proudly.
“He is now encouraging us to fight the good fight and finish the race. You have to run towards something, you have a goal. But we can’t fight evil with evil. We have to fight dark with the light,” Marrero said.
Fitzgerald’s goal was to be a better husband a better father, a better friend and a better police officer, he said.
“None of us are perfect, Chris wasn’t perfect, but he ran the good race and fought the good fight,” Marrero said. “But we all have the capability to do good.”
Fitzgerald’s brother Joel said his older brother was passionate about his family and was both an example and inspiration to him.
The outpouring of love and respect that people have shown for his brother since his death also inspires him, he said.
“The violence is everywhere, but today it feels like it’s just here in Philadelphia,” said Drea Herman, 37, of Southwest Philadelphia, as she watched officers march in procession into the cathedral. “This officer was just doing his job. He didn’t know when he left for work that it would be the last time he saw his wife and kids. It’s just so sad.”
She said solutions shouldn’t be left to just city or law enforcement officials. “It starts in the home and in the schools. We all have to take responsibility for our community’s kids so that they don’t cause this kind of hurt. The officer’s family is hurting and so is the killer’s,” Herman said.
Jennifer Griffin, Temple vice president for public safety, said Fitzgerald, who sought to advance his career, was posthumously promoted to sergeant.
Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal also announced that Fitzgerald, who worked in her office for almost four years, was posthumously promoted to sergeant by her office.
Fitzgerald was a member of the Guardian Civic League, an organization of Black police officers, and the group presented his family with a poem and a plaque.
“He was an example of what law enforcement is supposed to be,” Shapiro said. “He wanted to make our city safe for everyone.”
Tribune City Editor Sharyn L. Flanagan contributed to this story.