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Last salute to officer killed in train crash

Seven-year veteran Spree DeSha, 35, is remembered for her exemplary service.

September 19, 2008|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

As a bugler played taps outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Thursday, LAPD Officer Laura Gerritsen stood up and saluted the flag-draped casket of her life partner, Officer Spree DeSha.

Gerritsen was in uniform, and the action seemed fitting to honor a woman who was remembered in a nearly three-hour funeral ceremony as a model police officer.

DeSha, 35, a seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, was among 25 people killed and 135 injured Sept. 12 when the Metrolink train in which they were riding slammed into an oncoming Union Pacific freight train.

"Every life is precious in the eyes of God," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at the service. "But the loss of a police officer touches a particular nerve way deep down in our souls. And it hurts."

Because DeSha was in uniform when she died, she is considered by the LAPD to have died in the line of duty. Metrolink allows police officers in uniform to ride for free, with the understanding they will assist in emergency situations.

Thursday's service began with the arrival of a riderless horse, traditional at funerals for officers who die while on duty, and ended with a pre- recorded "end of watch" broadcast -- a radio announcement notifying LAPD personnel of an officer's death.

Hundreds of uniformed officers stood at attention as her casket passed.

A lectern at the front of the cathedral bore DeSha's cap and badge, the latter bent almost in half by the force of the collision.

The badge, said Police Chief William J. Bratton, was "bent but not broken -- a perfect reflection of Spree," adding that she had not let the chaos or calamity she had encountered on the job affect her spirit.

Bratton and other speakers at the funeral said that DeSha had an unwavering commitment to her mission as a police officer.

DeSha was "the embodiment of everything we could ask of an individual who puts that badge on their chest," Bratton said.

She was someone who "believed duty isn't something you clock on and off," Villaraigosa said.

"Her occupation defined her," said Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell. "It gave her life and it gave her life meaning."

LAPD Chaplain Michael McCullough said that DeSha had wanted to be a police officer from a very early age. A letter from her parents, Sha and Allan Moran, read aloud at the service, said that she "played cop" as a child, sometimes hiding a plastic pistol in her pants when she went with her parents to the supermarket, where she patrolled the aisles for potential criminals.

When it was Gerritsen's turn to speak to the mourners gathered in the cathedral -- a group that included several City Council members, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, firefighters, California Highway Patrol officers and family and friends -- her voice was soft as she began.

"She had the kindest eyes I've ever looked into," Gerritsen said. "She had wisdom far beyond her years. . . . I cherished every moment we spent together, and I have no regrets about the time we did have.

"Spree, I hope you are dancing with the angels now," she said, her voice breaking.

After the service inside the cathedral, family members and uniformed officers attended an LAPD honors ceremony outside on the cathedral's plaza. Helicopters flew overhead in a "missing man" formation.

DeSha's mother sobbed as Bratton presented her with the folded flag from the casket. Her husband put his arm around her.

Family members released white doves into the air. And then, in the middle of the plaza, it was time to say goodbye one last time.

Gerritsen stood in front of her partner's casket and saluted again. This time, her tears were visible.


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