‘We lost a brother,’ slain Gary officer remembered
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com July 14, 2014 10:56AM
Updated: August 16, 2014 6:06AM
GARY — Gary Police Officer Jeffrey Westerfield loved taking care of people, whether it was his kids or the Gary residents he assisted while on patrol.
His funeral program said,“His love was like an elastic band, it stretched to hold many people which never broke” and the theme was woven through his Monday funeral service at the Genesis Convention Center.
Westerfield’s daughter Allie choked back tears as she remembered sharing donuts with her dad and going on motorcycle rides with him.
“You never realize until someone is gone that you have so many things you have to say to them,” Allie Westerfield said. “I love my dad, and I know we had our issues, but every parent and kid has issues. I knew when I needed him that he would be there.”
Nearly 1,000 police officers gathered to honor the memory of Westerfield, who was shot to death in his police cruiser in the early morning hours of July 6 while responding to a domestic disturbance call near 26th Avenue and Van Buren Place. Westerfield was killed on his 47th birthday.
Westerfield is survived by his four daughters, a son, and his fiance Denise Sheaks-Cather. He planned to get married in August.
After the conclusion of the service, row after row of police gathered in front of the building to salute his casket as it was being placed in the hearse by the pallbearers — all of whom were Gary Police officers. In addition to the hundreds of officers, more than two dozen K-9 officers passed by Westerfield’s casket inside the Genesis Center.
Officers were present from across Northwest Indiana and the rest of the state, as well as Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky, and they joined a lengthy funeral procession to Chapel Lawn Cemetery in Schererville — stopping for two tributes at 1301 Broadway and 44th and Broadway.
Westerfield served as a Gary Police officer for 19 years and before that was in the U.S. Army.
Gary Cpl. Stephen Otten said it’s been a tough week for the department.
“We lost a brother... another one,” he said.
Gary Police Chaplain Dave Goshay said he and Westerfield had something in common: they didn’t let early brushes with the law steer them away from a law enforcement career. As a teen, Westerfield borrowed his parents’ truck while they were out of town and led police on a chase before crashing it into an embankment on the Little Calumet River.
“People talk about a thin line, and in law enforcement we say there’s a thin blue line between good an evil,” Goshay said. “We didn’t let those mistakes define us. God saw fit to let us make a change in our lives and we make that sacrifice on a daily basis.”
Gary Police Lt. Thomas Pawlak met and befriended Westerfield when they were assigned to prisoner transport early in their careers. One night, during the Christmas season, they decided to start singing Christmas carols.
“The prisoners didn’t like our singing and complained, so we decided to take them on a ride down Chase Street — which is not so much a road but a series of hills,” Pawlak said.
Through the years, they shared jokes about Westerfield’s driving, memorable meals and a love for motorcycles.
Since Westerfield’s death, Pawlak said he’s heard his friend called a hero.
“He never considered himself a hero ... but I think that applies,” Pawlak said. “He was one person in your life that can make a difference. He cared about everybody: family, colleagues, the people he served.
“I say this to the officers as you get ready for your next shift and report to roll call as always: we will straddle that line between good and evil, and bring calm to chaos. You have courage like Jeff did to stand up and face danger.”
For many officers in attendance, it was the third officer funeral they have attended in the past eight days. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Perry Renn was killed by an armed man on July 5, and Tipton County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Calvin was killed in a single car crash responding to a call on June 28.
“It has been an awful time in our state,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. “I turn to John 15, which says there is no greater love than for someone who lays down their life for others. He knew every night there was a chance he wouldn’t come home.”
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who was representing Gov. Mike Pence, said Westerfield was a model for any aspiring police officer to emulate.
“He wanted simply to serve the citizens of Gary to the best of his ability,” Ellspermann said.
Gary Police Chaplain Dwayne Lewis called Westerfield’s killer a “coward.”
Police have a suspect in custody, but charges have not been filed yet and the investigation is ongoing. The suspect is being held on two warrants, according to Lake County Sheriff John Buncich. Lake County is spearheading the investigation, and Buncich said Monday police are pretty sure that the person in custody was responsible for Westerfield’s death, but he wouldn’t comment about any additional suspects.
Lake County is offering $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction of suspect in Westerfield’s death.
At Westerfield’s burial Chapel Lawn Cemetery, a group of 80 bagpipers and drummers marched. Hundreds of gathered police officers stood in line — Chief Wade Ingram and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson standing in front — watching.
Bishop Norman Hairston Jr., a chaplain with the Gary Police Department, quietly recited the Lord’s Prayer as eight officers carried Westerfield’s casket from the hearse to its resting spot.
“Lord have mercy upon us,” Hairston said to the crowd.
Little else was said at the graveside as the gathered instead showed their respect through ceremony: the playing of Amazing Grace and Taps and the honorary firing of three shots by eight officers.
Eight veterans, including two Gary police officers, removed the flag covering Westerfield’s casket and folded it. Gary Cpl. Art Azcona, a fellow veteran and friend of Westerfield, then handed the folded flag to Ingram, who in turn presented it to Westerfield’s family.
The gathered officers then gave their last show of respect to Westerfield: One by one, they all filed by his coffin to each lay down a white carnation, leaving the casket under a thick blanket of flowers.
As the last officer laid down his flower, a helicopter from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department flew over.
Contributing: Teresa Auch Schultz, Carole Carlson