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Associated Press, Published May 07 2010

‘Death doesn’t make him a hero – his life made him a hero’

ST. PAUL - A Maplewood police officer gunned down as he sat in his squad car was eulogized Thursday as a loving, compassionate professional who also inspired his nephew to enter law enforcement.

Thousands of police officers from across Minnesota and the region filled the Cathedral of St. Paul to mourn Sgt. Joseph Bergeron. The 49-year-old father of two was shot to death Saturday in St. Paul while answering a carjacking call.

“Today, my heart is aching,” said Maplewood Police Chief Dave Thomalla, who had worked with Bergeron for the slain officer’s entire 26-year career.

Thomalla recounted Bergeron’s career and told the estimated 3,000 mourners that Bergeron’s family was equally important to him, and it showed when he was on the job.

“He always dealt with the public the way he would want other officers to treat his immediate family,” Thomalla said. “He displayed his gentle kindness every day and loved coming to work every day.”

Bergeron’s funeral Mass coincided with the fifth anniversary of the death of Gerald Vick, a St. Paul officer killed in the line of duty while on an undercover vice investigation. Vick’s family was among the attendees.

Bergeron’s ashes and a folded American flag had been placed on the cathedral’s altar. They were carried from the cathedral by two uniformed officers just before noon.

Two hours before the 90-minute service began, rush-hour commuters along Interstate 94 moved out of the way as a procession of Minneapolis squad cars – lights flashing but sirens silenced – made its way to the cathedral.

“My Uncle Joe’s death doesn’t make him a hero – his life made him a hero,” said Chaska police officer Mike Duzan. “When people needed help, they called my Uncle Joe. He was larger than life, and I wanted to be just like him.”

When the family arrived at the cathedral, a St. Paul police bell, on a caisson, rang 26 times – once for each year Bergeron served his department.

Archbishop John Nienstedt welcomed the mourners and recognized Bergeron’s wife, Gail, and twin 13-year-old daughters.

“Words cannot express the personal loss we know you feel today,” Nienstedt told Bergeron’s family.

The service ended with a rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” With a daughter on each side, Gail Bergeron walked out of the church behind a color guard. Flagbearers lined the steps outside the cathedral while officers stood in salute.

Following custom at police funerals, Thursday’s ceremony included honor guards, a riderless horse, three volleys of gunshots and an “end of tour” call over police radios after Bergeron’s squad car number was called out from a dispatcher. Gov. Tim Pawlenty was among those attending, along with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and his wife, Connie.

The procession was to travel through St. Paul and Maplewood to St. John’s Cemetery in Little Canada. Pawlenty ordered flags flown at half-staff at the Minnesota Capitol and other state buildings and monuments to honor Bergeron.


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