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Funerals 'part of the grieving process' for family of officers killed in line of duty

FARGO, N.D. -- Among the thousands expected to turn out for today's funeral of slain Fargo police Officer Jason Moszer, there will be a handful of mourners who've done this before.

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The flag flies at half-staff in West Fargo in honor of Fargo Police officer Jason Moszer. (David Samson / Forum News Service)

FARGO, N.D. -- Among the thousands expected to turn out for today's funeral of slain Fargo police Officer Jason Moszer, there will be a handful of mourners who've done this before.

They are the families of officers killed in the line of the duty; the spouses, brothers, sisters, children. They travel hundreds of miles to attend as many of these funerals as possible. They call themselves survivors.

It's painful for them to be here, watching another family bury another officer.

"You know what that family is going through, and it really hurts," said Christine Crittenden, the wife of North St. Paul police Officer Rick Crittenden, who was fatally shot in 2009. "You know every step they're going through, and the heartache you feel for them going through that at that moment brings you back somewhat to your own."

But after her husband's death, Crittenden, now 63, made a choice: She would attend the funeral of every fallen officer in the state of Minnesota, and then some. As of last week, she was hoping to come to Moszer's.

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"Because I know when I turned around to leave the auditorium and I looked up, and there were thousands and thousands of people there, it was like, wow. All these people cared about my husband," Crittenden said. "I know how it felt that they cared, so that's why I feel I will attend every one."

A dozen or more survivors from around Minnesota are expected to attend today's funeral for Moszer, a six-year veteran of the Fargo department who was fatally shot during a standoff Feb. 10 and died the next day. Visitation is at 11 a.m.; the funeral is at 1 p.m. at Scheels Arena.

Despite their pain, they come because they remember the thousands who came to the funerals of their loved ones. That, and they don't want the new survivors, such as Moszer's wife and two children, to feel alone.


A meaningful day

When Mike Brue heard about Moszer's death, he thought of his brother, Mendota Heights, Minn., police Officer Scott Patrick, who was shot and killed less than two years ago while making a traffic stop.

On July 25, 2014, Brue took Patrick, a gregarious 47-year-old father of two, to his first Twins game. Five days later, Patrick was shot three times. Brue found out from his sister-in-law.

"Sometimes I come into this office still and think about that moment and just how completely agonizing and heartbreaking that realization was," Brue, 59, of Alvarado, Minn., said from his workplace in Grand Forks.

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At the funeral for Patrick, 5,000 people, including 4,000 law enforcement officers, packed a West St. Paul church, spilling into overflow tents. Bearing flags and holding their hands over their hearts, mourners lined the streets for eight miles between the church and cemetery.

"They were children, they were elderly, they were people of various religions and faces. Not all of them Minnesotans, not all of them from the neighborhood," Brue said. "I can't describe with any justice just how meaningful it was."

The sight was overwhelming for Brue, and reminded him how much his brother's sacrifice meant to those he served.

This is how many survivors feel about the funerals of their loved ones, said Susan Mayerle, president of the Minnesota chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors.

"It's part of the grieving process," said Mayerle, 48, whose father died in the line of duty when she was 9. "It helps, it eases. It's not going to take away all the pain, but I think it assures the family that their loved one was loved and respected for who he was as a human."

Jackie Bergeron, 51, felt that way when thousands turned out to honor her brother-in-law, Maplewood, Minn., police Sgt. Joseph Bergeron, a kind jokester with a passion for deer-hunting. He was shot and killed while attempting to question two men in connection with a carjacking.

"It was just an amazing scene of support," Jackie said of his May 2010 funeral. "That really makes you see that your loved one was appreciated, even from those that never knew him."

One image that has stayed with her: the rows and rows of officers in uniform, saluting her family as the hearse arrived at the cathedral.

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"When an officer falls, it's like one of their family members," she said. "This is what they do for their fallen, to make sure that they're never forgotten."


A network of support

Survivors also find comfort in coming together.

When Jackie Bergeron lost her brother-in-law, she felt as if theirs was the first family to experience this. But through groups such as Concerns of Police Survivors, she's found others.

"It's really a support network for survivors, to find that connection, that someone (who) truly understands the emotions, the challenges that a loved one might go through," Mayerle said.

That's one reason Bergeron and Brue will be at Moszer's funeral today. Afterward, they hope to tell his family about those programs.

"It feels important to be there to show the family that life does go on. It gets better. It still hurts, but it gets better," Bergeron said. "They call it a new normal, you know. You have to live your life a little bit differently."

Crittenden, who's met with about 10 police widows, echoed that.

"You kind of get your strength from each other, and it's not through any words or any great expression of anything," she said. "You see how many have gone on. Some are six months. Some are a couple years. Some are 30 years."

That doesn't mean she has made peace with what happened to her husband, who was shot in the head with his own gun during an intense battle that lasted less than a minute.

"It's been six and a half years and it's still, why did this person feel they needed to kill my husband?" said Crittenden, who continues to live in their home in White Bear Lake, Minn. "It's always going to be there because there's never really any good answer."

"The grieving continues, the mourning process. I don't think that really ever ends," Brue said. But, "you can try to make the grief work in ways that help people."

Related Topics: POLICECRIME
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