The small chapel in Far Northeast Washington was filled to capacity yesterday, as words of praise and prayer were offered for D.C. police officer Donald Gary Luning.
Outside, along an oddly still East Capitol Street, hundreds of police officers listened to the service over loudspeakers as they stood in salute to their fallen comrade.
More than 1,200 police officers, some from as far away as Atlantic City, donned their dress uniforms and formed a wall of blues, grays, greens and browns, their badges and buttons winking in the afternoon sunshine.
They stood shoulder to shoulder, several rows deep, the men and women from 20 different area police departments, their backs stiffened, in front of St. Luke's Catholic Church. Inside, last respects were paid to Luning, who was shot to death with his own gun last Tuesday afternoon during a struggle with a man whom he had stopped to question about a stolen car.
The law enforcement tribute to Luning created a spectacle that drew many neighborhood residents from their homes, among them the Frye family, Marion, her husband, Theodore, and his brother Lawrence.
From the front yard of Theodore and Marion Frye's house, perched on a gentle slope across the street from St. Luke's, at 49th and East Capitol streets NE, the three sat in lawn chairs and watched with awe and dismay the funeral of a police officer they had never heard of until this week.
"What a waste of a young life," said Marion Frye, 73. Her wrinkled hands clenched a pair of binoculars and a program from the funeral. The sound of gospel music poured from the church.
"He's got children left and now they won't have no father." She closed her eyes and gently shook her head from side to side. "It's just a shame." It's been a very troubling thing to see."
Lawrence Frye, 68, nodded his agreement, although he said he thought the display of police spit and polish was "impressive." He had his reasons.
"I was a policeman," Frye said as he reared up from his chair and reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and flipped back the cover to reveal his Metropolitan Police Department badge.
"When I see this [procession] it makes me think of my days," Lawrence Frye said. "I retired in '65; I was in 20 years," he said. "And these things don't get any easier."
Theodore, 73, interrupted: "That's why I want to see this crime cleared and cleaned up. That's why I voted for that Initiative 9 (the mandatory sentencing law passed in Tuesday's primary)."
The three nodded to each other and again turning their gaze back across the street and to the solemn figures standing before the chapel.
"We stand with you in this moment of grief," Isaac Fulwood, a D.C. deputy chief and Luning's 6th Police District commander, said from within the church, his words echoing across the neighborhood. His words were frayed by his sobbing.
Lt. Robert L. Mitchell, a former member of the 6th District's tactical unit of which Luning was a member, told the gathering how he had watched Luning grow into a mature officer, and this week into a "true hero."
Luning, an 11-year police veteran, was slain after he stopped a car that he suspected was stolen. When he tried to question the man, the man ran into a nearby Northeast apartment building, and Luning gave chase. During a struggle with the man inside the building, Luning's revolver fell to the floor. The suspect picked it up and shot him, according to evidence presented at the suspect's arraignment. Luning died about 90 minutes later.
A 19-year-old Northeast man, Mark Anthony Watson, has been charged with first degree murder in connection with the slaying. He is being held without bond.
Luning's wife, Jodie, left the church yesterday surrounded by family. Before her came police officers and dignitaries: Mayor Marion Barry and council members John Ray and H.R. Crawford, police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., and most of the department's top brass.
Luning is to be buried today in Virginia Beach.
Yvonne Brown, a member of the police choir that sang at the service, said afterward, "Everything was so positive. You could feel it, you could see it, everybody was a part of everybody else."
As the procession, including about 300 motorcycles and police cars, rumbled away, about a dozen toddlers from the nearby St. Lucille Day Care Center, became excited. Jennie Hall, the center director, said that she and the teachers at the center had told the children about Luning. She said she wanted her children to know that some police even give their lives to protect their community.