As a bugler sounded taps in the distance and the stone-faced widow of slain officer Arthur Snyder stared off to her past, 1,000 police officers stood in the cold damp wind at a Wheaton cemetery yesterday, saluting a fallen comrade and realizing that it could have been any one of them.
"It's not like working in a factory or something, when you spend years just nodding your head to a guy," 3rd District officer J. M. Hornberger said earlier. "We know that someday some guy is going to be sticking a gun in your face and you're going to need a friend's help."
"Whenever a policeman from anywhere in the country is killed, you feel it. You just know, man, you know."
And when the colors dipped in final tribute and the flag that covered the coffin was presented to Snyder's wife of 4-1/2 years, Stella, the officers bowed their heads in silence. They had come as far away as Jersey City, from 23 different departments in all. Many crossed themselves and cried.
Snyder's burial at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery brought to an end a week-long drama that began on Monday, when he was gunned down. Bruce Wazon Griffith, a small-time drug dealer and convicted felon whom Snyder was attempting to arrest for dealing of the 14th street strip, was named on a murder warrant as the suspect in the shooting.
Then followed what police officials have called "the most massive manhunt" in the city's history. For three days and nights, hundreds of city police, many volunteering their off-duty time and working around the clock, searched the streets and alleyways for Griffith.
Leaning on informants, acting on tips and offering $5,000 in reward money, police wearing flak jackets and carrying shotguns surrounded more than 100 homes and abandoned buildings at different times, sometimes missing Griffith by minutes.
But by 3:15 p.m. Thursday, the search was ended. Griffith lay dying from wounds he received in a dramatic shoot-out with police, just blocks from the quiet Northwest street where he grew up.
"I just wish we [3rd District police] could have found Griffith instead of the Fifth District. Snyder was with us his entire time on the force," said Hornberger.
To his friends and fellow officers, Snyder was a good-natured guy, a quiet jokester. The man with a smile. But his reputation for aggressiveness made the junkies, dealers and street people around 14th Street hate him. When the cop they called "Mickey Mouse" was killed, some of them laughed and joked and said he had finally gotten his due.
Yesterday, at his parish, the Faith Pentecostal Holiness Church in Wheaton, the Rev. Dwight Griffin eulogized Snyder as a man who was "quiet, reserved, always willing to help, . . . a man who had found a very personal type of religion."
As grieving police shivered outside the tiny brick church near Snyder's home, they listened to the eulogy through speakers mounted on the roof.
Although Mayor Marion Barry attended the funeral, a few oficers grumbled that Chief Burtell Jefferson had missed the service. He had flown to California "on a previous engagement, a convention in California," a spokesman said.
Griffin told of a 29-year-old who was born in Batavia, N.Y., a man who had always wanted to work for the law. He graduated from Buffalo State University in 1973 with a degree in criminal science and later worked for the FBI, before joining the D.C. police force in 1975.
Griffin told stories about Snyder: how he had brought him firewood; how Snyder had shoveled off the sidewalks around the church last Sunday morning; how he never got upset. Once, when he became lost while hunting deer with some friends in Northern Maryland, he managed to find his way by following a trail of peanut shells one of them had dropped.
"Art Snyder enjoyed life," Griffin said. "He lived every day of life and I believe he loved every day he lived . . . And he loved his work. He said he tried not to think about the dangers because he didn't want to let anything interfere with his job or his wife he loved so dearly."
After the service, 750 police cruisers made a loop back down Georgia Avenue, headlights on and red domes flashing stark against the gray sky, to pass one last time in front of 3rd District headquarters at 17th and V streets NW.
"It was a show of solidarity," said Hornberger later at the cemetery. "It's like our captain said the other day. The junkies down on 14th Street have declared war on us. We have declared it back."