A sea of officers, an ocean of silence
AVON — The thick silence was broken only by the steady thumping of a news helicopter above and the crunching of gravel underneath freshly polished shoes.
More than 1,000 officers stood stone-faced in front of the church, long after the steeple bells rang and bagpipes melodically cried a sweet song, as an American flag-covered casket was slowly carried out by 10 more officers wearing their dress blues.
“Present arms!” shouted one of the uniformed men, breaking the solemnity, as the wall of officers quickly and in unison drew their right hands upward in salute in front of the St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church.
One by one, family and friends of Jason West, a Cleveland Heights police officer and Avon native who was gunned down last week while responding to a fight, followed the pallbearers and filed out of the old brick cathedral. A green cross affixed high above to the top of the steeple overlooked the scene.
West, 31, grew up in Avon and graduated from Avon High in 1994. He had worked for the Avon Police Department as a dispatcher before joining the Cleveland Heights Police Department as an officer seven years ago. His funeral drew officers from all over Northeast Ohio, from Sandusky to Toronto.
Behind the saluting law enforcement, about 100 residents watched with quiet concern as the pallbearers eased the casket into a black hearse. They were only a fraction of those who paid their respects to West just an hour earlier. Hundreds of residents from all over the county, waving American flags and weeping silently, turned out along the tree lawns of Detroit Road to watch the funeral procession.
Prior to the church service, a gold-trimmed, 19th-century carriage pulled by a team of two Percheron horses carried West’s body from Misencik Funeral Home on Detroit Road to the Stoney Ridge Road church. The carriage passed underneath a giant American flag held above Detroit Road by two fire truck ladders during the mile-long journey.
Storefronts along the way bore signs paying respect to West, calling him a hero and saying he’ll be sorely missed. Avon Schools canceled classes for the day, but teachers outside Avon Village Elementary School, where West attended, watched quietly from outside the Detroit Road building.
“These people put their life on the line every day, and for something like that to happen is just awful,” said Nadine Heath, of Grafton, who took the morning off from her job to watch the procession on a friend’s lawn. She wore sunglasses, but they did little to hide the tears running down her cheeks.
“People don’t realize that we’re fighting a war over there, but these guys are fighting a war here every day,” added another onlooker, Karen Mucha, of Lorain. “And they’re so young. I’m looking at these young officers as they’re walking down the road and I’m thinking, ‘My God, what are they, like 21?’ ”
The actual funeral was private, but loudspeakers carrying the prayers and gospels from the service were set up outside the church. Services were conducted by Bishop Richard Lennon, head of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, whose Boston-accented sermon could be heard for several blocks.
After the church service, as the hearse slid back onto Detroit Road on its way to Resthaven Memory Gardens for the internment, the officers broke formation and marched in a line toward the cemetery in the heat. Walking with them was Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, who attended the funeral.
Amy Dreger lives across the street from the church and was letting residents view the proceedings from her lawn. She said she always gives her lawn up during events, but this was a special occasion.
“Jason was a friend of mine,” she said, adding that she graduated a year before West did from Avon High. “He was a great kid. We were all a closeknit group.”
She and some other former classmates sat on her front porch for much of the morning to catch up and reminisce.
“We miss him,” Dreger said.
Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 or email@example.com.
|Video of services for Jason West|
|CHUCK HUMEL / THE CHRONICLE
A horse-drawn hearse with the casket of Avon native and Cleveland Heights Police Officer Jason West proceeds west on Detroit Road toward services
at St. Mary’s Church on Stoney Ridge Road. In the top photo, a dozen of the more than 1,000 officers in attendance salute as the procession passes.