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Thousands pay tribute to officer

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Daytona Beach News-Journal on February 8, 2000.

ORLANDO -- His comrades in arms said their final goodbyes Monday morning to Orlando police Officer George S. DeSalvia, bidding him farewell just yards away from where he was fatally shot.

More than 3,500 individuals people crowded into First Baptist Church of Orlando for a memorial service that drew fellow law enforcement officers from as far away as Massachusetts. A sea of disparate uniforms and somber suits filled the main sanctuary at one of the few area churches large enough to contain the throng.

Despite the location, DeSalvia was memorialized with a traditional Catholic ceremony funeral Mass conducted by the Most Rev. Norbert M. Dorsey, bishop of Orlando. The funeral Massceremony, which included readings from Psalms and the Book of Job, reminded the congregation of the meaning they can draw from the officer's death.

"He laid down his life for others," Dorsey said after the ceremony. "That's his legacy. He was willing to give his life in service to others. We can do that, too. We can live out our love for others."

DeSalvia, 29, was shot in the head during a traffic stop around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. His partner, Edward Diaz, was wounded in the shooting and is in stable condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Preceded by motorcycle-mounted officers and surrounded by horses including one symbolically left riderless the hearse carrying the fallen officer arrived at the church shortly after 10 a.m. Eight uniformed pallbearers followed by skirling bagpipes playing When the Battle is Over" brought the casket into the church, while a police officer and DeSalvia's sister-in-law escorted his widow behind it.

DeSalvia's 256 days on the Orlando police force were remembered by one of his trainers during the ceremony, which included a tear-filled speech by a man who served with DeSalvia in the Army.

The slain man was on his way to fulfilling the goals he laid out in his application to the force, said Officer Patrick Guckian, who helped train DeSalvia. "So few people touch our lives in ways that will always be remembered," he said. "Though I only knew him for a short while, Sal was one of those type of people I will never forget."

In his application, DeSalvia said he "wanted to be a police officer for as long as I can remember."

"It's sometimes a not-so-glamorous job and the hours can be long, but it's a job I've been passionate about," DeSalvia wrote, mentioning that both his uncle and father had been New York City police officers. "I do prefer to be out with the public."

Those dreams of serving the public public service were ones DeSalvia and his friend Michael Daughtery discussed when they were stationed together in Georgia.

"You lost a loyal member of your force," Daughtery, a police officer in Milton, told the crowd. You lost a loyal servant to the city of Orlando. I lost a true friend."

DeSalvia will be eulogized again today when his family holds a fu neral at San Pablo Catholic Church in Northport, closer to where many of his family members live. DeSalvia will then be buried in the Venice area.

The service for DeSalvia, the first Orlando officer killed in the line of duty since 1968, was held but a stone's throw from the scene of the shooting. The somber site, marked by two white crosses, has attracted flowers and votive candles some left by grieving relatives, others by community members who said they never met the man.

"It shows how much police offi cers mean to the community," said Shane Smith, a former Marine who said he attended the memorial service to honor a fellow veteran. "People should realize how important they are every day."

In addition to his widow, Cynthia, DeSalvia leaves behind three young children.



About

This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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