Stories illustrate officer's brief, bright police career

Family, friends recall Roussey's love of job, kindness to local kids

March 14, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Jamie Roussey had been a police officer only four months before he was killed rushing to help a colleague. To those who knew the 22-year-old, it seemed he had worked the streets a lifetime.

He had built a rapport with children on troubled streets, playing the role of tooth fairy to gap-toothed youngsters. He volunteered to work when he should have been off -- like Wednesday, when he was killed in a car crash.

At yesterday's funeral Mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville, 500 mourners packed pews and lined aisles to hear story after story that accumulated during Roussey's brief career.

"Even if we knew he was going to be killed in the line of duty, we wouldn't have lifted a finger to stop him," said the fallen officer's father, Sgt. Frederick Roussey, also a member of Baltimore's police force.

In addition to his father, Roussey's uncle Vincent; his brother Frederick Jr.; and his cousin Seth are active city officers -- making the name one of the most recognizable on the 3,200-member department.

Roussey was killed while speeding to help three colleagues who were chasing a drug suspect in West Baltimore. The marked Jeep Cherokee he was driving was broadsided by a car at North Fulton Avenue and West Fayette Street.

The 100th city officer to die in the line of duty since 1870, Roussey had always wanted to be a police officer. His father took him to the station when he was age 2, and he grew up wanting to work at Western District.

In a rousing, tearful eulogy, the senior Roussey praised his son as a casualty of battle -- "a soldier in the war on crime. Do not allow the criminals to win. If we let them divide us or break our spirit, it means Jamie died for nothing."

The young Roussey embraced the family credo -- that life matters "because I was important to a life of a child." Moments before he sped to help his fellow officers, he had been passing out bags of chips to children.

"He wasn't cynical about this job," said Mayor Martin O'Malley. "There was nothing he wanted to do other than be a police officer in this city. And he insisted on going to the Western District, one of the most violent in our city, one that takes enormously hard work and compassion."

The mayor turned to Roussey's relatives. "No family," he said, "will ever pay a higher price to make the city a safer place. Our city owes your family a debt we will never be able to repay."

Roussey, a 1997 Catonsville High School graduate, had been a standout in football, wrestling and lacrosse, and was awarded the Catonsville Gold Award for participating in three sports while maintaining a B average.

He completed police academy training in November and told anyone who would listen that he wanted to be a sergeant by age 25 and a lieutenant by 30.

Monsignor Victor Galeone acknowledged the grief and anger felt at Roussey's death. "If Jamie had only been off that night like he was supposed to. If only Jamie had not responded to the Signal 13, an officer's call for distress. If only Jamie had gone through that intersection three seconds earlier. If only. If only."

Galeone said he wished he had known Roussey better than the quick handshakes at the end of Sunday Mass -- about how close Roussey was to his family, about the pickup truck he bought and cherished, about the children he helped on inner-city streets.

The priest said his most touching moment of the past several days was Friday, during an evening viewing, when a brother carefully arranged rosary beads in Roussey's hands, and another put a can of Guinness beer, his favorite, in the other.

The theme of Easter and resurrection echoed through the church -- the Gospel reading was of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Galeone said Roussey did not "wear his religion around his neck, like I do, but where it is most important, down in his heart."

He recounted Roussey leaving work one day and spying a boy missing his front tooth:

"Hey, little fella," Roussey called out, "did the tooth fairy give you any money?" The child answered no. "Of course not," the officer answered. "The tooth fairy gave me the money and said to give it to you."

Roussey handed the child a dollar bill.

Before he knew it, another kid said, "My tooth is missing." And another

He came home and said, "Pop, before I got out of there, I was out 10 bucks."

Midway through the Mass, a former girlfriend and a high school friend walked to the casket -- draped in a white resurrection cloth -- and placed Roussey's cap and badge on top -- a tribute that remained in place through the service.

O'Malley, on behalf of the family, read a poem by an unknown author called "The Final Inspection," about a police officer facing God at judgment time. The officer is forced to acknowledge that he's missed Mass and not always turned the other cheek.

"No, Lord, I'll be straight; Those of us carry a badge; Can't always be a Saint."

The fallen officer tells God of his daily routine -- that he never took a penny that wasn't his and he "never passed a cry for help."

God answers: "Step forward now Policeman; You've borne your burden well; Come walk a beat on Heaven's streets; You've done your time in hell."

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