Listen To This Story
"So much has been stolen from us."
The brother of slain police investigator Mario Herrera expressed the loss felt by hundreds as his family, fellow officers, and the community at large said good-bye.
Herrera died earlier in the week after a long fight to survive three gunshots to the chest. A member of the gang task force, he was one of a team of officers attempting to arrest a suspect in an earlier homicide.
The funeral mass focused on the memories of a good family man and a respected law enforcement officer.
Earlier in the day, a cadre of police motorcycles and patrol cars escorted the body of Investigator Mario Herrera once again. As had been the case when his body was returned home from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, hundreds of people lined the streets as the procession passed.
Earl Lawrence, the father of a member of the Lincoln Police Department, stood outside Bryan East Hospital "to show our support for the Lincoln police" because "they do so much for the community."
A group of kids held hand-made signs across the Calvary Cemetery reading "back the blue," and "Forever in our hearts." Their mother, Tammy Beck, felt "the more signs and flags for the family, the better" and a good lesson for her children to show their appreciation to law enforcement.
Most people never knew the officer during his 23 years of service but followed his struggle to live during his last two and a half weeks.
Lining the last few blocks of the motorcade route into the arena were police cars from police and sheriff agencies from all over the state and throughout the region. Cuming County, Madison County, South Sioux City, Yutan, and Ogallala all made the trip. Prison guards, conservation officers, and railroad police represented their branches of law enforcement. Small groups of officers in their dress uniforms and white gloves waited for the arrival of the entourage.
Gary Smith, Chaplin for the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office and North Platte Police, said of the number of uniforms he was "impressed, but I expected it."
After three decades of police work, Smith has attended five police funerals, and it's a stark reminder of the dangers of their work.
"Our wives never know whether we're going to come home that night or not, so it's very important that we as a brotherhood and a fraternity honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice."
Sgt. Adam DeBall drove the 500 miles to represent the Cheyenne Wyoming Police Department, explaining, "it's important for me to be here just because I may not know the person, but it could be me, or it could be somebody I work with."
A brigade of bagpipers opened the Catholic mass inside the Pinnacle Bank Arena. Clergy waved incense and shared scripture in front of a huge blue backdrop.
Mourners sat a safe distance apart, a condition of holding a funeral during a pandemic. Chief of Police Jeff Bliemeister was unable to attend the service while he remains in quarantine. Speaking by way of a video feed, Bliemeister spoke directly to Herrera's wife Carrie, and said, "I hope you feel proud."
The presiding priest spoke of Herrera's humor and his legendary long and oft-told anecdotes. Apparently, fellow officers heard his stories so often they kept a running tally of those repeated most often.
He also spoke of the family's understanding of Herrera's passion for life and his energy, even as he fought for his life in a hospital bed.
"So this man, who lived his life a hundred percent of the way, his daughter Olivia even noticed this in his last days, in his last hours, he was giving a hundred percent, just to breathe."
Mario's brother Francisco laughed through tears in the eulogy while sharing fond memories, including his visit with his brother just days before the shooting.
Francisco was especially taken by comments he read in an online memorial from a family who had suffered a suicide. Herrera had been dispatched to their home.
"The mom spoke of Mario saying few words, and I knew she saw what I saw. There was a tenderness and a sweetness and a vulnerability in Mario's eyes. There was a lightness in his eyes. He was an immediate friend, and I will miss that the most.
There was a private gathering at Calvary Catholic cemetery near downtown. His fellow officers provided a final farewell with a 21-gun salute, a flyover of police helicopters, and the playing of taps.
During the service, the presiding priest mentioned Mario Herrera converted to Catholicism nine years ago and chose as his patron saint, Saint Michael, who did battle with dragons, a defender of those at the hour of death. Investigator Herrera was wearing his St. Michael medallion the day he was shot.
Get the latest from around Nebraska delivered to your inbox