Officer Philip Michael Pennington didn't know it, but his Prince William County community thanked him for his life this week after he was killed in the line of duty on Thanksgiving Day.
A women's auxiliary pitched in to help find food for a reception, local restaurant owners donated food and two local police departments donated manpower to free up Prince William County police officers so that they could attend the funeral of a slain comrade.
"I'm amazed at the people who gathered here who don't even know him," said Barbara Cantarella, who helped serve food at the reception at a police association hall in Independent Hill after Pennington's funeral Monday. "Everybody just came together to help out. It's really nice to see people joining together to help like this."
Pennington was shot Thanksgiving morning when the Prince William County Police Department Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team attempted to execute a search warrant at the Dale City home of Mark F. Arban, 31, who was suspected of shooting an Arlington sheriff's deputy hours earlier.
Armed with what a police spokeswoman called a "military-type assault rifle," Arban fired three shots, one of which hit Pennington in the head. He was pronounced dead about 7 a.m. at Potomac Hospital. Arban was killed by an officer at the house, police said.
The day after Pennington's death, volunteers went into action, soliciting donations of food for the reception, said Linda Wieland, president of the Police Wives Association.
"We've had help from restaurants who have brought in food, from the community that also donated food, just all around, this has been one of the biggest outpourings of support I have seen," Wieland said.
"We've had 2,500 people come through here and we've had food for everybody."
After two local newspapers ran announcements that food was needed, the phones began ringing.
Residents called wanting to donate food or money to a fund for Pennington's 6-year-old son Michael. Virginia State Police and officers from the Manassas City Police department covered calls to free up Prince William officers to attend the funeral, Prince William police spokeswoman Kim D. Chinn said.
The owner of one restaurant donated 10 hams, several platters of sliced cheeses and other buffet-style foods and came with one of his employees to help serve. Another donated two huge boxes of fried chicken. A third sent 10 pounds of ribs. Two businesses sent money to purchase soft drinks. Local VFW and American Legion posts, as well as other police wives auxiliaries, helped out.
"It made me proud of what I do and it is nice that the community recognizes what we do," said Chinn, who rode with Pennington for six months after she joined the force. "It's tragic that it takes something like this to make it happen, but it's nice to get reinforcement from the community, that they support us."
Woodbridge restaurant owner Owen Thomas said he participated because he wanted to show respect for Pennington's family. The officer often came to his restaurant and worked out at a local gym with several of Thomas's employees.
"It was just something that needed to be done," said Thomas, who bustled around the reception filling empty buffet dishes, dumping trash and clearing tables. "It was good for us to help out for the officers and their wives. They had enough pressure that day that it was good to be able to let them enjoy the camaraderie with their friends."
Wieland said Pennington's wife, Connie, and his parents, Philip and Doris, were taken aback by the public show of support. As the slain officer's family and friends rode in a procession through Old Town Manassas after the funeral, the route was lined with people paying respects to a police officer they never knew.
"They protect us and this is sometimes what they get for it," said Betty Fuller, of Manassas. "They put it on the line for us every day. The least I could do was show up and pay my respects."