The hearse carrying the body of Nogales Police Officer Jesus Cordova drove under an enormous US flag hanging from two cranes at the entrance to the town’s high school Saturday morning.
Awaiting the hearse was a white-gloved honor guard of about 100 law enforcement officers from around the state standing at attention. Within an hour, more than 1,000 people had arrived to attend a Mass honoring Cordova.
Cordova was shot and killed in his patrol car April 27 in Nogales while responding to an emergency call about a suspected carjacker armed with a semi-automatic rifle. Cordova was the first Nogales police officer to be shot and killed in more than 100 years.
As the high school's parking lot filled up, the sounds of bagpipes and choir’s singing floated out of the high school's auditorium to welcome mourners.
Along with private vehicles, patrol cars from law enforcement departments in Nogales, Bisbee, Tucson, Mesa, Phoenix, Winslow, Sierra Vista, Yuma, and elsewhere were parked at the school. Officers from Arizona Game and Fish, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the Arizona Department of Transportation also attended.
Attending funerals for fellow officers is "is the hardest part of this job, because you know someone gave the ultimate sacrifice," said Motor Officer Carlos Rodriguez of the Phoenix Police Department as he and other officers gathered in the shade to wait for the Mass to begin.
"It's a somber event that you're going to, but it gives you hope when you see so many people gathered," Rodriguez said.
By the time the Mass was beginning the auditorium had exceeded its capacity and the overflow crowd, which kept growing with the arrival of mourners, was sent to the school's gymnasium where audio of the mass could be heard.
Inside the auditorium, Bishop Edward Weisenburger, along with clergy from local churches Sacred Heart and San Felipe de Jesus, performed the mass from the auditorium stage, which was adorned with dozens of bouquets and a blue-and-white cross made with flowers.
Cordova's coffin was draped with a white cloth in front of the stage and a photograph of Cordova in uniform stood to the side of the stage.
Cordova's wife, Alyssa, read the poem "The Final Inspection" from behind a lectern with a badge crossed by a black band.
"Step forward now, policeman, You've borne your burdens well," she read from the poem. "Come walk a beat on heaven's streets, you've done your time in hell."
"Rest easy, baby. I'll see you in heaven," she said through tears as she finished.
Nogales Police Chief Roy Bermudez told the crowd Cordova upheld his oath to protect his community "until his last breath." As a result, Cordova helped "take a madman off the streets," Bermudez said.
Bermudez addressed Cordova's three children, saying their father laid down his life to protect them and all the children in Nogales.
Cordova's death was a shock to the police department, Bermudez said, but he said officers should "use Chuy's memory as the glue" to keep the department together.
After the mass, the crowd gathered under trees in the school's courtyard, where officers fired a three-volley rifle salute to Cordova and his end of watch was announced over the loudspeaker.
As Cordova's body was loaded into the hearse, a Border Patrol agent slowly led a horse with empty boots in its stirrups away from the crowd.