What started as a routine call of a disturbance in downtown San Jose turned into a bloody, cat-and-mouse shootout that claimed the lives of two police officers and a gunman Friday, Jan. 20, – the second and third officers in department history to die after a criminal wrestled away a police gun.
Officer Gene Simpson, 45, died instantly after being stalked and shot in the head with his own gun. Officer Gordon Silva, 39, the second person to face the gunman, clung to life for several hours after being shot in the stomach and the leg. He died Friday evening at San Jose Medical Center, despite two rounds of emergency surgery that replaced his entire blood supply at least six times.
The gunman, Dale Randy Connors, 35, was shot three times through the heart by other officers, who swarmed to the scene of the shootout on East Santa Clara Street outside Winchell’s Donut House near Fifth Street.
Simpson and Silva were the first San Jose police officers to die in the line of duty since July 1985, in that earlier killing; the officer also was shot to death with his own gun.
A solemn farewell to comrades
It was a morning of farewell. They came by the hundreds to say goodbye to San Jose police officers Gene Simpson and Gordon Silva. Two good street cops. Two good friends. They came to make a proper ending of it. And they did. So long, with stiff salutes and unchecked tears.
There was frost on the ground. In the chill of the morning, columns of smoke rose from the valley floor like plumed feathers. By 9 a.m. hundreds of police officers from throughout California and hundreds of civilians from San Jose were already driving or trudging upon the steep hill to First Baptist Church. More than 3,000 gathered in all.
Then the motorcycles came in columns of two, more than 170 strong, leading the solemn processions of black hearses and limousines that carried the dead and the bereaved.
The flag-draped coffins, made of oak-stained poplar, were removed by pallbearers and taken through the honor guard into the church. The cops were massed at attention.
Every officer present understood that neither Simpson nor Silva had much time at the end. But Simpson had the presence of mind to radio Code 30, major emergency. The first units were on the scene within 26 seconds of Simpson’s radio contact. And yet it was all too late.
Life is a quickly woven tapestry. The bright threads of joy take long moments; tragedy passes in the blink of an eye. But even in terrible aftermath, there are things to be weighed and considered. There are men to be honored, a perspective to be gained.
It was such a morning in San Jose.
“It’s OK to feel sad,” police Chaplain David Bridgen told those gathered. “It’s OK to feel anger and to feel the pain and the frustration of grief.
“But if Gene and Gordie were with us, they would be first to say, ‘We chose the profession. We knew the danger. We were aware of the possibilities. We knew and we wouldn’t trade it. Stand up. Stand tall. Be proud of the uniform. We are family. And even though we are gone, don’t let us down. Stand fast.’ ”
There seemed little danger of anyone backing down. The fraternal closeness of police officers was evident. Of course, you see that every day. What most people don’t see every day is the humanity behind the badges. And perhaps that’s because it isn’t always revealed.
But we all stand together on a morning of farewell.
Dave Paulides, who gave an emotional and eloquent tribute to his friend Silva, said of both men, “I never heard one thing bad about either of these officers. You have good men and bad men. You have great officers and poor officers. These were the great and good. Two very senior, very reliable men. When the radio went off, they answered it.”
It was a thought echoed by officers Kim Garner and Peggy Galvan, when officers gathered after the funeral at Italian Gardens.
Said Garner, “The saddest thing is that they were two easygoing guys, two of the most peaceful and gentle men in the department. They never did anything wrong to anyone.”
And Galvan, “I think you feel two things today. One is the tragedy of losing these two men, members of our family. The second is the real closeness, the community of people sharing our grief. It is beautiful.”
“This is a lesson you wish you never had to learn,” said Officer Dan Vasquez, a member of the street crimes unit, which operates in the downtown area where Simpson and Silva were shot. “The community feels the loss and senses the grief. But there is also a loss here that only another officer can understand.
“What I feel most of all is reaffirmation, an understanding of why we do this job. This call was a common, everyday occurrence. It happens every day, as common as pulling someone over and writing a ticket. And yet, look how tragically it ended.
“We can use it as a learning experience and take it out there with us. But we still have to go on out there. And we will.”
During the memorial service, Irene Trapp, married to San Jose Police Sgt. Rick Trapp, sang two beautiful hymns. There were the traditional words of prayer. And then the hundreds of officers from across the state – from Santa Barbara, Long Beach, Ventura, San Francisco, Pinole, Modesto, Salinas, Pacific Grove, Morro Bay, and Vallejo, just to name a very few – filed out in formation, saluting the caskets once again.
Outside again, there was a 21-gun salute. The flag detail removed the flags from the coffins, folded them in ceremony and presented them to Police Chief Joseph McNamara. He presented them to the Simpson and Silva families.
The day had gathered warmth. A large brown hawk soared just overhead, casting the shadows of its wings on the dead and those who would guard them.
– San Jose Mercury News