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Hundreds attend Blue Mass to remember five 'sentinels of peace for our day'
By DOUGLASS CROUSE
A bagpiper troupe's hymns and a bishop's prayers echoed off cathedral walls Tuesday as hundreds gathered for a Blue Mass devoted to five fallen police officers.
Nick Erdmann had his own way of remembering one of them, Kinnelon Lt. Eugene Erdmann: The 9-year-old kept his dad's lieutenant badge clipped to his belt, where it remained as he and his brother Marc, 14, delivered communion wafers and wine to clergy inside St. John the Baptist Cathedral.
Around them, at least 300 uniformed officers, family members and public officials filled the church's pews as part of the seventh annual Mass. The service honors all the state's law enforcement officers, whom Paterson Diocese Bishop Arthur Serratelli called "sentinels of peace for our day."
"It is justice that brings about peace," Serratelli said in his homily, alluding to a verse in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, "and right that brings about security."
This year, the crowd remembered two officers who were killed on Dec. 25 when their truck plunged from an open drawbridge; a Newark school officer who was fatally shot while responding to a fight; a Watchung cop who died during a pursuit; and Erdmann, who suffered a brain hemorrhage last July at police headquarters.
Chief John Finkle recalled when Erdmann came to the department from the Paterson force 18 years ago. Back then, the two young officers would ride around together: "He'd show me the ropes and I'd show him the roads," Finkle said.
Erdmann eventually became known as an enthusiastic mentor to new officers.
"He showed everybody the calm way to handle things," Finkle said.
Tuesday's Mass was preceded by a military-style ceremony on the street and a long procession into the church, where the loud strains of the bagpipes fell away to the honor guard's synchronized steps down the aisle. Twenty clergy members also took part in the service.
It ended when a single piper's rendition of "Amazing Grace" expanded to a swelling chorus of 16.
Outside, Nick Erdmann — who said he wants to be "a teacher or a policeman" when he grows up — showed off his father's badge to a few of the uniformed strangers. About three dozen of the lieutenant's relatives and friends stood by wearing plastic tags with his photo.
Across the street, colleagues of Newark School Officer Dwayne Reeves recalled the 35-year-old husband and father, who was fatally shot in July while trying to break up a fight outside a city high school.
"All he had to do that day was stay where he was and not get involved," Newark police Sgt. Leslie Jones said. But that wasn't Reeves' style, the sergeant said.
Also attending the Mass were the parents of John Samra, a Clifton motorcycle officer who was struck and killed by a suspect he was pursuing on Nov. 21, 2003. Luis Hernandez, 41, of Passaic was sentenced to life in prison last year for that offense.
Fallen N.J. officers get high honor