Throughout the day, he looked alternately confused and full of wonder. He gazed skyward as helicopters flew by and focused straight ahead to hear the whispering words of the city’s police chief.
A miniature police badge adorning the lapel of his blue blazer glistened in the sun.
When the graveside service was over, 6-year-old Ryan Williams rubbed his eyes with his hands, trying to keep the tears off his cheeks.
On his tiny lap lay the American flag that had draped the coffin of his father, slain Los Angeles police Detective Thomas Williams, buried in a Mission Hills cemetery November 5.
Five days earlier, the boy had watched in horror as his father’s life ended at 42, struck by a killer’s gunshots outside a Canoga Park day care center. The uninjured youngster might have died, too, authorities said, had the detective not warned his son, “Duck down.”
The warning – the final, selfless act of a dedicated police officer, father, husband and friend – was typical of Thomas Williams, said the three men who eulogized him at a memorial service that preceded the burial.
“His last act on Earth was to save the life of his young son,” said Father John Murray, a priest at Our Lady of the Valley, the Canoga Park Catholic Church that Williams attended. “What better image could we have of him? A fallen hero.”
Inside the overflowing church, some of the nearly 2,000 mourners stood along the walls during the service, while others prayed from the balcony, the lobby and the building’s front steps. Williams’ fellow Los Angeles police officers affixed black bands of mourning across their badges.
Roger Rowe, a classmate of William’s at military school and at Cal State Northridge, recalled his friend as a multifaceted man of integrity.
“There are still people outside in society who believe mere bullets can stop a man like Tom Williams,” Rowe said. “You can’t kill the ideals and principles he stands for.
“Tom, I’m proud to say I was your friend,” Rowe said. “The things you stand for are not dead.”
The detective’s murder, described by Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates as the first time an officer was stalked and killed, prompted an abundance of sympathy from police throughout Southern California. More than 1,000 officers from more than a dozen agencies attended the memorial and graveside services, creating a mile-long funeral procession of more than 500 vehicles to San Fernando Mission Cemetery.
“Tom was a man who meant so much to so many, who touched so many lives in so many ways,” Los Angeles police Chaplain Jerry Powell told mourners. “We say goodbye to a member of our family.”
At the graveside, a police honor guard fired the traditional gun salute, police helicopters flew above in the “missing-man” formation and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”
After a bugler sounded “Taps,” the uniformed Chief Gates presented the American flag from atop the coffin to young Ryan Williams, then squatted before the boy, his 17-year-old sister, Susan, and the late officer’s widow, Norma, to individually whisper words of condolence.
Afterward, Gates hugged several tearful mourners.
“There’s so little you can say,” a somber Gates said after talking with Williams’ family. “It’s a very difficult situation.”
Four men were charged with the murder of Detective William’s, who was ambushed outside his son’s day-care canter.
The special circumstance allegations filed against the four defendants include lying in wait, killing a police officer and killing a witness.