Paying final respects
Slain officer remembered
Emily Bittner and Josh Kelley
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 5, 2004 12:00 AM
Officer Eric White was a man who kept his promises.
White told a partner's mother that he would always keep her son safe.
"It was a promise Eric kept because I believe Eric was and is my guardian angel," said Officer Nick Tiano, who was at a Phoenix apartment complex the night White was killed. Without White, "I, too, would not have made it away from that apartment door."
White, 30, a fourth-generation police officer, was shot to death in a gunbattle Aug. 28. The suicidal suspect, Douglas M. Tatar, killed both White and Officer Jason Wolfe, 27. Wolfe's funeral was Friday.
About 3,000 mourners from police agencies all around the state gathered Saturday morning for White's funeral at Phoenix First Assembly of God. About a dozen officers and friends praised him in eulogies that described his courage, dedication and good sense of humor.
The shooting cut cruelly short the life of an officer who performed his duties with enthusiasm, dedication and hard work, said Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris.
Harris noted the Medal of Merit that White was awarded for saving a woman from a burning vehicle and said he died honorably in the shootout.
"We will remember Eric was courageous with his actions," Harris said. "We will remember Eric died a hero. We will forget any words of criticism . . . because they mean absolutely nothing."
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said he cried with White's wife, Colleen, the night of the shooting.
Gordon wrote a letter to White's children, Alexia, 5, and Connor, 3, saying he will always be there for them and describing the community's pride in their father's work.
"He was unafraid to walk through closed doors because he had promised all of us he would act with honor and valor," Gordon said.
White's friends from his days in the U.S. Marine Corps laughed about how he liked to play jokes and praised his commitment to his family.
Several officers remarked during the service how much White's sleeping son resembled his father, who loved taking naps. White was an informal leader in the Squaw Peak precinct, said Cmdr. Dave Thomas.
"He had this uncanny ability to see the field in front of him . . . and maintain his calm and poise," said Thomas, his chin trembling before he read from White's many commendations.
Thomas spoke to reassure White's family and the squads that White and Wolfe served on. "We will walk through this storm together and we will get through it and we will get through it with our heads held high," Thomas said.
As officers loaded White's casket into the hearse that brought him to Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery, thousands of flashing police lights lit up the church parking lot.
White's family left the church with his two children clinging to their mother's hands.
Two people held a large American flag across from the church's entrance as police cars streamed out of the parking lot. Others waved small flags, placed their hands over their hearts or gave the motorcade a thumbs up.
Hundreds lined Cave Creek Road for the procession.
Lauri Kennedy of Litchfield Park held her hand over her heart as the motorcade drove by. Outside the service she gave police a painting for the fallen officers' families that depicted the hands of God holding a police badge with an American flag in the background. Across the top the painting read: "In loving memory of," and on each side of the hands it said "Officer Eric White" and "Officer Jason Wolfe."
"Nothing that we say or do can even remotely thank them, and I just pray that God blesses all of them," Kennedy said.
Officer Charlie Steel worked in the same precinct as White and was saddened by his death.
"I can't imagine my wife being in that situation," Steel said after the funeral. "It could be you. It could be your family that's following the hearse."
Published in The Arizona Republic on Aug. 30, 2004.