Thousands stand 'united as a country on a bridge' as procession of slain memorial officer drives past

by Tammi Ledbetter, |
In a procession to Dallas Fort-Worth National Cemetery, Patrick Zamarippa is honored for his service with the Dallas Police Department Saturday July 16, 2016 along I-20. A police motorcade led the procession followed by a hearse and then a series of law enforcement vehicles that stretched for 29 miles from Fort Worth, Texas. At least 500 people were in the one particular area to watch. Thousands lined a series of I-20 bridges while the Grand Prairie, Texas Police Department stood watch. | Tammi Ledbetter

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas (Christian Examiner) -- A post by a neighbor on Facebook prompted Maggie Wolters-Williams to hurry out the door Saturday with her family to join the crowd gathering along Interstate 20 in Grand Prairie to honor Dallas policeman Patrick Zamarripa who was 32 when he was violently shot protecting others.

"I asked my husband, 'Do you want to take the kids?' and he said, 'Of course,' so we piled them in the car and drove fast," Wolters-Williams told the Christian Examiner. "We thought it was important to show our children what patriotism and respect look like."

With hundreds of law enforcement officers driving patrol cars in single file along a 40-mile route from northwest Fort Worth to the DFW National Cemetery southeast of Dallas, onlookers who gathered along the Fish Creek Road overpass numbered over 300. A massive 15-foot by 25-foot American flag hoisted above Grand Prairie Fire Department's quint 10 fire truck served as the backdrop that attracted attention to the anticipated procession.

A local Boy Scout stretched out his American flag along the bridge rail. Several adults displayed hand-written signs of support for #DallasStrong. Dozens of people wore red, white and blue hats and shirts, some identifying veteran status.

Children with tiny flags tagged along securely led by a parent's hand as they scaled the hillside or positioned themselves for a bird's eye view of the anticipated parade of vehicles with shrill sirens and blinking lights. Many more residents simply stood silently with respect for the grieving family, friends and officers who had just finished Zamarripa's funeral where the activity center prepared for a crowd of 6,000 mourners.

"We were shocked at what happened in downtown Dallas," Wolters-Williams said, alluding to the July 7 murder of five police officers who were keeping watch on a peaceful protest rally. "We wanted our kids to see how many people had gathered with the firemen. Many were our neighbors and friends.

A young Hispanic Marine from Grand Prairie waited along the guardrail for over an hour along with his family, honoring "a fallen Navy brother" and calling the past week "a sad time for everybody." An active member of St. Michael's Catholic Church, he told the Christian Index, "I thought it was only right to pay honor to Officer Zamarippa in whatever little way we could."

Zamarripa was a Petty Officer 1st Class in the Navy, receiving a posthumous promotion during Friday night's rosary service. A Fort Worth native, he played second base on the Paschal High School baseball team and was a trumpeter in the band. His band director described him as "always just like a bright light" amidst gang activity and problem kids in the inner city community of Rosemont.

Keisha Genty and her daughter were driving toward their home in Duncanville when they got caught in the traffic snarl and decided to turn off at an intersection before seeing the fire truck displaying a flag. "We decided to join the folks who were paying their respects," she explained, untroubled by the delay it caused her in reaching her destination. The two black women attend church in the Oak Cliff area north of their home.

With 10-, 11-, and 14-year olds at their sides, Wolters-Williams and her husband, James Williams, made sure their youngsters noticed how many different cities and municipalities across Texas and other states were represented in the motorcade of policemen. "Frisco. Irving. Border Patrol," one son shouted in sequence as he successfully identified the patrol cars. Greyhound busses carried visiting policemen from other states as far away as New York and California.

"It was humbling to see how many were waving as they drove under the bridge, sometimes honking their horns or using their sirens to let us know they were there," she said. Those gestures delighted the crowd, especially the younger children. Other bystanders stood at attention, one hand saluting or placed over the heart, having parked their cars to make way for the procession.

"Nobody was being paid to be there," Wolters-Williams realized. "I was very amazed to be standing among people of different economic levels, a variety of races, and with veterans of different wars. It didn't matter that we were burning up, we were just right there for three hours and were amazed that we were witnessing history," she added.

The crowd grew over the course of the four-hour period of the end of the funeral in Fort Worth and the beginning of the interment at nearby DFW Cemetery off Mountain Creek Parkway just two exits east where another large flag welcomed the procession of motorcycles, funeral limousines, both marked and unmarked police cars, and several busses. Officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and London police also participated.

After the Williams family attended their Latter Day Saints church in Grand Prairie the next day, she reflected further on how standing in 95-degree heat for the procession helped her put feet to her own faith-based values about respect and honor to those who serve the public.

"We were united as a country on a bridge," she shared. "It was just amazing."