'He was born to serve'

Hundreds of mourners bid farewell to slain officer

February 11, 2000|By Liz Atwood and Nancy A. Youssef | Liz Atwood and Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

At a service marked by tears and poignant memories, hundreds of police officers joined family members yesterday to say goodbye to Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero, the off-duty Baltimore County officer who was killed Monday in a robbery at a Pikesville jewelry store.

More than 600 people filled Reisterstown United Methodist Church at 11 a.m. for the funeral. Hundreds of others stood outside, listening on loudspeakers.

After the service, a miles-long procession led by 100 police motorcycles snaked along local roads and beneath highway overpasses, where onlookers had gathered to pay their last respects. The procession ended at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, where bagpipes echoed as Prothero was laid to rest at the Fallen Heroes Memorial.

Standing in the church near the flag-draped casket, Ann Prothero read a letter to her husband. "Being a police officer was a big part of who you were," she said through tears. "Although we never thought it would end like this, I know you would never want to become anything else."

The Rev. Frank Trotter said in his eulogy that Prothero came in uniform to the church eight years ago, telling the pastor that he was looking for a church to join and wanted to talk about his faith and his work.

"He told me he loved what he did," Trotter said. "But he knew that long hours were often required and he knew that it was often dangerous. But he told me, for him, being a police officer was a call from God."

Prothero's family and friends remembered him yesterday as a neighbor, husband, brother, father and hero.

Rick Prothero recalled his brother -- "the caboose of an eight-kid train" -- as a curly-haired child who always got the hand-me-downs.

"We stand in awe of our little brother," he said. "He was born to serve, lived to serve and died serving."

Police officers from along the East Coast began assembling outside the church early in the morning. Just before 10: 30 a.m., the officers snapped to attention as the caravan of black limousines carrying Prothero's wife, five children, parents, brothers and sisters pulled up. Flags were dipped as family members walked into the church, many hugging each other and holding hands.

Among the public officials attending the service were County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, members of the Baltimore County Council, State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell and area police chiefs.

Porches of neighboring homes were draped in black bunting. Above one, a sign read: "Sgt. Prothero is in the arms of angels. Our prayers are with you and your family."

Boyhood dream realized

Trotter recalled the life of the man who had wanted to be a police officer since boyhood. Prothero grew up in Rockville and met his future wife in a high school photography class. They went on their first date in 1982 and never parted.

In 1987, Prothero received a degree in sociology and corrections from Towson State University and joined the Baltimore County Police Academy. A year later, Bruce and Ann Prothero were married.

The couple had their first child, Holly, in 1993. Two years later, triplets Kimberly, Andrew and Parker were born. Their daughter Hannah followed in 1998.

Yesterday, Trotter read a letter from Holly: "I always had fun with my Dad. Me and my Dad went camping at Harpers Ferry. We rode our bikes to Shepherdstown. We swam in the river. We used to go to the pool. We used to go under water together. When I tapped him he would jump up out of the water. It was fun. I feel sad about my Dad. I will miss him. I love you Daddy, Holly."

Prothero was the fifth Baltimore County police officer to die in the line of duty in the department's 126-year history. Police investigators have been working around-the-clock to find the killers.

"The cause of his death represents all that is wrong with this society today," Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan said in a brief eulogy. "The reason we are here represents all that is good."

`Happen to any one of us'

Police officers came from as far as New Hampshire and Florida to pay their respects.

"We are all brother police officers," said Sgt. Patrick Doyle, a member of an honor guard unit from the Cambridge Police Department in Dorchester County. "It could happen to any one of us."

Also showing support were relatives of other officers who had died in the line of duty.

"The pain never goes away," said Harvey Groner, whose 24-year-old son, State Trooper 1st Class Mark P. Groner, was killed on the Eastern Shore in 1992. "But it isn't as frequent. Life goes on."

Residents and shop owners lined the street in front of the church.

"I cried and cried" after learning of the shooting, said Vickie Laubner, 60, of Reisterstown. "My children are his age. My grandchildren are his children's age. I just can't imagine what it must be like."

Sgt. Cole Weston, president of Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, told the congregation that it was difficult to come up with the words for yesterday's service.

"Everything I wrote down was so angry," he said.

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