February 14, 2004
Slain officer laid to rest
Officer Down: William "Wally" Rolniak - [Riverdale, Illinois]
Nearly 1,000 police officers silently saluted the casket of slain Riverdale police Detective William "Wally" Rolniak as it was carried into Our Lady of Knock Catholic Church on Tuesday morning.
Hundreds more mourners helped pack the small Calumet City church, stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the cafeteria of the adjoining school, and spilled outside into a parking lot to honor the first Riverdale police officer ever killed in the line of duty.
"Wally is a hero, a true hero in every sense of the word," Riverdale Police Chief David Shilling said during the funeral. "Wally will always be a part of the police department. His memory will never be forgotten."
Rolniak was killed last week after a Chicago man being questioned in an attempted murder and kidnapping case at the Riverdale police station grabbed Rolniak's gun, dragged him outside, and shot him to death behind a nearby convenience store. The suspect, 27-year-old Adrian Humes, was shot and killed by police moments later.
The kilt-clad Emerald Society's bagpipe and drum corps, a police group called into service whenever an officer is killed, escorted Rolniak's hearse to the front of the church before the service.
"We always hope we'll never have to do another one of these things," said bagpiper Timothy Sheehan, an Arlington Heights police officer. "But from our viewpoint, it's the least we can do."
As the honor guard lifted Rolniak's flag-draped coffin from the hearse, officers from dozens of Illinois police departments — and some from Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Tennessee — stood silently at attention, many with tears in their eyes.
More than 1,200 mourners, including the police officers, came to honor Rolniak, 39, a 14-year veteran of the Riverdale police department.
A Dolton native, Rolniak had recently moved from Lansing to Lowell, Ind.
Some mourners told sweet, tender stories about the doting father of two girls, the fun-loving jokester, the laid-back guy who was a wrestler and football player in high school.
"You can tell a lot about a person when they're gone by the legacy they leave behind," said Karl Robinson, a fellow wrestler with Rolniak when they attended Thornton Township High School in Harvey. "Wally was a class act. ... He was a great officer, a great father, a great friend."
After the service, Rolniak's casket was escorted more than 20 miles to Beverly Cemetery in Blue Island by a procession of at least 420 patrol cars, fire trucks and unmarked police cars.
The outpouring of support that followed the shooting shows that police officers remain a tight-knit fraternity, Hazel Crest Police Chief Peter Fee said.
"It's a great tragedy to all law enforcement in the Chicagoland area," said Fee, who is president of the South Suburban Association of Chiefs of Police. "Any time an officer falls in the line of duty, it's an absolute tragedy."
Our Lady of Knock parishioner Lorraine Przybyl said she came to the funeral not only to pay her respects to a fellow church member, but also to support the extended family of police officers. Her son is a narcotics officer in California who was recently shot and injured while on duty.
"Police officers' families stick together," she said. "We have to support each other."
Like Przybyl, many of the mourners said they had never met Rolniak. But, they said, they were drawn to the funeral by a feeling that his death must be honored, his family supported.
"It's just something you do because it's right," said Our Lady of Knock parishioner Michelle Zaversnick. "(Rolniak's wife, Maureen) doesn't know me, I don't know her. But I'm here to show support."
The service, which was broadcast over loud speakers to the overflow crowd in the parking lot, was a tapestry of scripture and personal tributes.
Riverdale Mayor Zenovia Evans said Rolniak was among the "unnoticed and unappreciated" American symbols that make the country safe.
But it was Rolniak's passion as a father and husband that drew the attention of those who knew him best.
"Our world is changed for the better because of people like Wally," said the Rev. Patrick Lyons, pastor of Our Lady of Knock. "Be inspired not by the death of Wally, but by the life of Wally."
During the service, a family member read aloud a letter that Rolniak's 12-year-old daughter Denise had written to her father after his death.
"I could never ask for a better father," she wrote. "You were always there for me and my sister. ... I just want to tell you I love you very much."