As more than 2,500 people gathered yesterday to mourn him, a Prince William County police officer killed on Thanksgiving was remembered as a "man who always had a smile for everyone" but who "could fight like an alley cat when he had to."
About 1,200 police officers from as far away as Ohio and North Carolina joined the family and friends of Officer Philip Michael Pennington in an hour-long funeral service at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Manassas. They then went to the parking lot for a 21-gun salute and presentation of a flag to the slain officer's family.
"It's okay not to be tough today, okay to hurt and cry, to hug and hold and to give and receive love," the Rev. Philip Thompson told the mourners, about half of whom listened to the services over speakers outside because the church was full.
Pennington, 35, a member of the department for 11 years, was fatally shot about 7 a.m. Thursday in the home of Dale City resident Mark F. Arban, 31. Prince William County Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officers exchanged gunfire with Arban when they tried to serve a search warrant.
Police said Arban, who was suspected of wounding an Arlington deputy hours earlier, fired an automatic weapon at Pennington, striking him in the head. Arban then was shot to death by another officer at the scene, police said.
Pennington was the first Prince William police officer shot to death in the department's 20 years.
James P. Moran Jr., elected this month as a Democratic U.S. representative, told reporters after the funeral that he will cosponsor legislation to outlaw assault rifles. "Weapons like that have no purpose in society at large," he said.
Friends and colleagues of Pennington's remembered his infectious smile and good humor yesterday, recalling his positive outlook and his love of police work.
In his tenure with the department, Pennington had received commendations several times, including honors for participating in a raid at a Triangle apartment in January in which he was shot in the thigh by a suspected drug dealer.
"But even while recovering, he expressed to me his desire to continue with his beloved SWAT team," said Police Chief Charlie T. Deane during the eulogy.
Pennington's widow, Connie, read a poem she had written titled "To the Wives of Cops." She described watching her husband leave for work and the uncertainty she felt not knowing if he would return home.
She recounted a conversation she had with her husband in which he discussed the January shooting and told her he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread on Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, if he should die. Then she said goodbye: "We will always be together in our hearts . . . . God bless you, baby; I love you bunches."
After the service, many officers and friends of the dead officer attended a gathering at the local police association hall.
Investigator S.C. Newsome, who stood by at Pennington's surgery in January to secure the bullets for an investigation, remembered his colleague's sense of humor. "I had to scrub and dress in surgical clothes, and when they wheeled him in the emergency room, I told him, 'Mike, I read the chapter on this operation and I think I can do it.' He just laughed and laughed," Newsome said. "That was Mike."