When Bob Bradley went to the funerals of two slain police officers in New York City at Christmas, his sister Elaine McMahon was afraid. She didn’t want him to go.
“But he said, ‘Elaine, this is just what we do. If anything ever happens to me, you will see,’ ” she said with a sad smile.
The State College police officer did not die at the hand of a criminal or in an accident, but he died in his uniform, while on duty, and on Friday, the goodbye was just what he told his family it might be.
The First Baptist Church in Bellefonte was packed with officers from every department in the area, as well as state troopers and those from even farther afield. One cruiser in the parking lot came from Manassas, Va.
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Bradley, 43, died Monday of a stroke after having stopped at his home while on patrol. He was a 19-year veteran of the department.
The tribute did not just remember Bradley as a man in a blue uniform. In the lobby were homemade posters with snapshots of his history. On screens in the church, a slideshow flashed snippets of his past — Christmases, birthdays, summers on a four-wheeler, holding a baby, dancing with a delighted little girl.
“He was just such a sweetheart. That’s how he lived his life,” McMahon said.
But there was no escaping what else he was. Black-banded badges were everywhere.
State College Police Chief Tom King led his officers, and each stopped, hat in hand, to say goodbye, placing a hand on Bradley’s shoulder one last time. Some wiped tears away with white-gloved hands as they took their seats.
“He always wanted to be a police officer, from the time he was little,” McMahon said.
Robert Bradley Sr. was moved by the outpouring of grief and respect for his son.
“You have honored us by your presence today. I am overwhelmed,” he said.
Outside, row upon row and line upon line of police, emergency personnel, attorneys and others waited silently for Bradley’s coffin to start its journey to Meyer Cemetery, some saluting sharply as flags snapped in the bitter cold breeze.
The funeral procession showed even more people arriving in the frigid temperatures to thank Bradley for his years of service. Outside of the American Legion post and the fire hall were silent observers. In front of the courthouse, ambulances flashed their lights. Alpha and Undine fire companies created an arch with their ladder trucks for the procession to pass through.
But it wasn’t just those who served who waited. In front of Benner Elementary School, a line of students holding hand-lettered signs said a last “Goodbye, Officer Bradley.”
At 1:39 p.m. came the final tribute on the police radios.
“All those you served will remember you. Ten-seven forever,” the call came out, giving the code that says an officer is out of service. “End of watch.”
“Life is a test, and my brother passed with flying colors,” McMahon said.