JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Hundreds of police officers from across the Tri-State Area mourned the loss of one of their own Friday.
A funeral Mass was held for rookie Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago, 23, shot and killed in front of a Walgreens on Sunday in what authorities have called an ambush.
Police said 27-year-old Lawrence Campbell shot Santiago at close range while he was still in his patrol car.
Santiago’s casket was carried into St. Aloysius Church in Jersey City draped in an American flag created after 9/11 to pay tribute to heroes who lost their lives in the line of duty, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported.
As WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reported, it was a fitting farewell for someone who grew up dreaming of protecting Jersey City’s West District, just like his uncle, retired cop Frank DeFazio.
“The bullet that struck Patrolman Santiago’s head also struck my heart,” DeFazio said during his eulogy.
“I went to the scene after everyone was gone, and I took a moment to stand where my nephew took his last breath, where God put his hand on Mel’s shoulder and said to him, ‘Let’s go.'”
Mayor Steven Fulop said Santiago was an ideal cop.
“Melvin Santiago was really everything we would want in a police officer,” Fulop said. “He was hardworking. He was conscientious.”
For Santiago’s family, the final farewells were almost too much to bear. His heartbroken father had to be held up by family members as he prepared to say his last goodbyes to his son, Sloan reported.
“He’s in heaven right now with the rest of the heroes,” said Santiago’s cousin Marissa Zdazinsky.
“It was just shocking because Melvin was just a kid,” Zdazinsky added. “Was his dream to be a police officer.”
“I’ve been personally encouraged by the outpouring of humanity that has come forward and the heartfelt feelings I have seen in community,” said former Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey.
Santiago had only been on the job for seven months, but had quickly earned the respect of his colleagues because of his dedication.
At his wake Thursday, he was posthumously promoted to detective and awarded the department’s medal of honor.
There was a sea of blue on the street outside the church to honor the slain officer, Sloan reported.
“This leaves you contemplating how some of us make it through an entire career and some of us don’t make it for one year,” said Plainfield Police Capt. Edward Santiago.
It wasn’t just police officers who stood outside in the heat, but also residents.
“Just letting them know that the community does appreciate what they do and very sorry for their loss,” one woman told Sloan.
“It’s just a despicable crime. It’s just terrible,” said Joseph Cifarelli, of Jersey City. “Little does he know that in his dying and his short time on the police force he did a lot of good because he brought the community together. He is truly like an angel … a saint.”
One mourner told Sloan outside the church, “He sacrificed his life for us all.”
Santiago was buried in a private ceremony at the Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington.
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